Buying a Hazard Free Home
in a Hazard Free area of Massachusetts
Asbestos is a fibrous material that often appears flaky if in poor condition. When inhaled, it can damage your lungs and respiratory system. It has been used to insulate pipes, furnaces, and some roofs and siding. While encapsulation is permitted, state law requires that if the asbestos material in your home is in poor condition and not repairable, removal by a licensed contractor is mandatory. Cost is approximately $10 per linear foot.
There are strict state guidelines and disposal requirements. In some instances a hygienist is required to certify the work area as safe following the removal of asbestos. You many want to hire an industrial hygienist to take air samples to ensure that no asbestos fibers remain. Local Health Departments must approve all asbestos removal or encapsulation plans. Call the Department of labor and Industries at (800) 425-0004 for a list of licensed asbestos inspectors and removal contractors.
Asbestos siding does not ordinarily pose a direct health threat. Replacement of broken shingles can be made with look-alike asphalt shingles. However, asbestos siding should only be removed by a licensed contractor and must be disposed of in an appropriate landfill. Old floor tiles may also contain asbestos, and disposal of those tiles in the local dump is prohibited in Massachusetts.
Drinking Water is regulated in several ways in Massachusetts. If water is supplied by a private well, the homeowner is responsible for having the water tested by a certified laboratory. Your local Board of Health will tell you what minimum well testing requirements exist in the community.
If your drinking water comes from a municipal or public source, the water supplier is required to test for a variety of contaminants and make these test results available to consumers Call you local water supplier for information on the latest testing results. For general information regarding testing requirements, call the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Water Supply at (617) 292-5770.
Lead in Drinking Water is a potential problem in homes with lead service pipes, homes with interior lead plumbing including brass faucets and fixtures, homes with brass submersible pumps, and homes built between 1982-1986 which have copper pipes with lead (50% lead 50% tin) solder.
There is no way to tell whether you have lead in your water except by testing. A plumber or municipal plumbing inspector can tell you if you have lead pipes or lead-based solder. Your local Health Department can give you a list of area laboratories certified to test for lead in drinking water. Cost is nominal ($30)? The EPA has an "action level" of 15 parts per billion for lead content. The EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline is (800) 426-4791).
If you have copper pipes with a lead solder, you may not want to replace the plumbing. The best short-term solution may be to flush the pipes in a manner that conserves water and reduces your exposure to the lead. Flushing the water before cooking or drinking can help minimize your lead intake because water rushing through a pipe may have a lower level than water that has been standing in the pipe for several hours. Some people fill a water jug after the water has been running for some time and keep it in the refrigerator for drinking or cooking.
Most water filters do not remove dissolved lead. Replacing your faucets and fixtures may actually increase lead being leached into the water because new fixtures still contain a certain amount of lead while older fixtures often develop a protective film that inhibits lead from getting into the water.
Household Hazardous Waste Hotline for the DEP is (800) 343-3420. Products like pesticides, herbicides, and lawn care products are potential hazards. Most towns have a spring or fall collection for hazardous waste. You can also call the DEP for the name of a hazardous waste disposal company to which you can bring your products. Products with Aldrin, Chlordane, DDT, Heptachlor, Silvex, 2,4,5-T as active ingredients must be saved for a special collection.
Don't dump pesticides and herbicides in sewers, septic systems, or trash. Store away from living areas and out of reach of children. Empty containers can be wrapped and put in the trash after being triple rinsed and the rinse water used as a pesticide. Call the Mass Pesticide Bureau (617) 727-3020 before using or disposing of a product.
Some older paints may contain lead, mercury or other toxic ingredients and will not qualify for recycling or continued use. If the paint container is nearly empty or has been frozen, add sand or kitty litter to dry up the contents and place in the trash. As a home purchaser, you should not have to purchase a home with partially filled paint cans left behind. There may be a paint store in the area which will accept these paint products for recycling or call the Green Paint Company in Sutton (508) 476-1992.
If you are buying a home where a do-it-yourself auto mechanic lived you may find auto cleaning products, used motor oil, car batteries and tires being stored. Antifreeze is a poison, which attracts children and animals because of its sweet taste. Gasoline can cause injury ranging from minor nose and throat irritations to nervous system disorders and even death. Used motor oil can be returned to the store where it was purchased if you have a receipt. Some retailers will accept the oil without proof of purchase. Call DEP's Used oil Hotline at (617) 556-1022 to find a store near you.
Car batteries are banned from disposal in Massachusetts. Return batteries to a local service station, auto parts dealer or Battery Company. Most battery retailers will give a discount when you purchase a new battery and return the old.
Tires are also banned from disposal in Massachusetts's landfills unless they are shredded. Typically, used tires are burned for fuel under environmentally controlled conditions in solid waste incinerators. Call your town's public works department or the DEP (617) 292-5984 for a recycling Services Directory.
Diesel fuel, brake fluid, and gasoline are flammable and should be stored in the original containers. Aerosol cans should be emptied before discarding. Pool chemicals should never be poured down the drain. Photographic chemicals include silver which is toxic. Some household products including cleaners and chlorine bleach should be used up or given to someone who can use it. Some drain openers are extremely caustic and may be banned from use in certain parts of Massachusetts. Other products may contain phosphates or heavy metals such as arsenic and zinc. Empty propane tanks may be accepted at a scrap metal yard. Check the Yellow Pages or call (800) 343-3420.
Radon Gas is found in high levels in one out of every four homes in Massachusetts. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that escapes to the atmosphere from uranium-bearing surface rocks and soil or from groundwater containing dissolved radon. The EPA ranks radon as its greatest environmental problem in terms of potential cancer deaths per year. The Surgeon General and the Massachusetts Department of Public health recommend that every homeowner and potential homebuyer test for radon.
Radon test kits are readily available at a reasonable price ($25) or most Home Inspectors will provide the testing process. Tests must be performed in an undisturbed area for 48 hours. Radon levels are highest in the winter because of limited ventilation. Test results over 4 pico Curies per liter are a warning. EPA recommends immediate re-testing and appropriate mitigation if a second reading confirms levels in excess of that amount. If you have a private well and radon reading is high, you may want to have the drinking water tested. Radon measurements will vary greatly from one building to another.
For information about mitigation systems contact the Department of Public Health at (413) 586-7525 or call for an information packet on Radon at (617) 522-3700 extension 444. You can also call the EPA at (617) 565-9409.
Underground Fuel Tanks may be considered hazardous in Massachusetts. You should verify from previous owners whether the home ever had an underground fuel tank and when it was installed and/or removed. If currently in use, it may need to be upgraded to meet new leak detection standards. Tanks older than 15 years may have corroded.
If there is evidence of a leaking tank, be prepared to hire a cleanup contractor and a tank removal service. All contents of the tank will be removed and the tank reduced of oxygen, capped, and all holes plugged before excavation begins. This can be a significant cost that homebuyers should be aware of. The tank's removal must be supervised by the fire department, the tank transported to a licensed storage and disposal facility and examined at the graveyard for evidence of leakage.
Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, tasteless gas that is formed as a result of combustion of fuels. Carbon monoxide may enter a dwelling through faulty venting of furnaces, fireplaces, barbecues, and built-in garages. Excess exposure to carbon monoxide may cause brain damage and even death. Municipal fire departments and boards of health to detect carbon monoxide and other noxious gases have obtained sophisticated measuring instruments. Some home Inspectors have begun to test for excess level of carbon monoxide near furnaces and above built-in garages.
Recently, inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors have been introduced into the market. These detectors are ordinarily placed in the basement near the furnace and also near the bedrooms. Unlike smoke detectors, which are required by law, law in Massachusetts does not require carbon monoxide detectors. For more information on carbon monoxide contact the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission in Boston at (617) 565-7730.
Wetlands, Floodplains, and River Protection regulations encompass not only coastal wetlands areas such as salt marshes, dunes, beaches and banks, but also inland wetland areas such as swamps, marshes, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes and any area within 200 feet of rivers. A buffer zone of 100 feet from the edge of most wetlands is also subject to the jurisdiction of the conservation commission. Land within the 10-year floodplain as depicted on the flood insurance maps is also subject to the conservation commission.
Because Massachusetts strictly regulates activities in and near wetlands, it is prudent to investigate if a wetland resource area or buffer zone is present on a specific property.