I‘m a single mom, so you might say I’m a little overprotective of my daughter—who isn’t?
My daughter and I are a dynamic duo. When it was time for us to pack up our stuff and journey across the city, my overprotectiveness made sure our new home was safe for the one thing in my life I couldn’t possibly live without: my little girl.
I also happen to live in New York City. And like many families here and other metropolitan areas, we’re your average apartment dwellers. Guess what? Especially here on the east coast, apartment buildings are often old, which set off my mom alarms when I was looking for a new place.
What I already knew to do was be vigilant about paint chips. But after a scare that led me to do more research, I found out there was so much more than lead paint to worry about. I want to share what I learned so other families can be safer when they move.
Have you heard of asbestos? I had heard of it before but never understood what it really was until I was told that the material was actually in my new apartment.
Through my ordeal with the removal process, I learned that this toxin is the only known cause of a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. Wow! Getting cancer from the one place meant to keep you safe?
What happens with asbestos is this: when disturbed, the asbestos particles are released into the air and then unknowingly inhaled. Those particles get caught in the lining of vital organs. Consistent exposure can cause cancer, which can form in the abdomen, lungs or even heart. Asbestos is tricky because you can’t identify it by sight with the untrained eye—you actually need to pay someone to inspect your home. (Sometimes this can come with your home inspection, but you might need to ask for the actual test.)
Though when I say you need to, I mean just that. If your home or apartment building was built between 1930 and 1980, it may have asbestos in it. The initial cost may seem like a heavy burden now, but in the long run, will prevent an unnecessary battle with cancer. Get that stuff far, far away from your loved ones!
So you’ve checked for asbestos. Now onto radon, another sneaky toxin. Radon is an invisible, odorless, and tasteless gas.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as many as 8 million homes throughout the county have elevated radon levels. That is problematic because the gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon leaches from the soil and into the home where it can collect. There is the highest risk of elevated radon levels in the basements or lowest levels of buildings.
The only way to know if you have elevated radon levels is to test your home. There are two different forms of testing: short and long-term detectors. Short-term detectors measure radon levels for two to 90 days. The long-term tests determine the average radon concentration for more than 90 days. Long-term detectors are more accurate, as radon levels change constantly.
Mold … now that I’ve done the research, just thinking of this word gives me the willies. Mold is quite common, and for those with allergies or asthma, the presence of mold can be really disruptive to their lives. Yep, unfortunately, I am one of those people. (All my fellow allergy suffers please blow your nose in solidarity.)
Unfortunately, mold does not discriminate against any homes or apartments—you lucky ones with brand spanking new homes may still fall prey to mold growth. Thankfully, it’s pretty simple to remove!
Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than one cup of household laundry bleach in one gallon of water.
To prevent further mold growth, ensure that humidity levels in your space are low. An air conditioner or dehumidifier can help to dry that air out! Cleaning bathrooms with mold killing products will also ensure no little spores have time to flourish. Also, make sure to consider your vents. Keeping household vents open will allow for proper circulation to keep mold at bay.
Lastly, it’s still important to be on the lookout for lead-based paints. Bad paint was at the forefront of my mind with a little “ankle biter” in tow when I looked at prospective apartments.
Lead is particularly dangerous for kids because, if you weren’t aware, just about everything goes into their mouths, including paint chips. For kids, lead exposure can result in behavior and learning problems, slowed growth and lower IQ. Again, older homes and apartments have a higher incidence of lead paint—those built before 1940 have an 87 percent chance that they contain lead paint. If the lead paint is in good shape, there is little to no risk. but if the paint is chipping, peeling or cracking, it’s time to get it removed.
It’s important to have your homes inspected for lead-based paint. Don’t be shy about bringing it up to a landlord, even if you’re already moved in! A basic risk assessment will inform you about any lead-based paint present in the space and how to mitigate the risks.
As a young professional making my way on my own I was confident that I was smart enough to know what to look for when apartment hunting. It turns out I wasn’t smart enough without additional research. But hopefully, through the tips and tricks I’ve mentioned, you can be sure to save yourself from some headaches (and heartaches) and prevent you and your little bundles of joy from exposure to toxins.