Steps to Reduce Exposure

General Steps.
In a nutshell, the best way to reduce or eliminate exposure to VOCs is to eliminate the source of the contaminant. When renovating it is possible to choose materials, finishes and furnishings that do not emit VOCs -- simply ask a few questions about the presence of VOC emitting substances before you make decisions about materials and products, and choose alternatives that do not emit VOCs. It is now possible to buy non-toxic grout and caulk, paint, wallpaper adhesives, and floor and wood finishes. See our PROVIDER DIRECTORY for sources of no-VOC and low-VOC materials. Make it a priority to avoid products (paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints) that contain methylene chloride and benzene. Never mix household cleaning products.

Apart from completely avoiding products that emit VOCs, ventilation is the name of the game. If a substance you are using contains VOCs, meet or exceed the manufacturer’s instructions and label precautions regardng handling and ventilation. Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials, don’t buy larger quantities than you need and, because VOCs can escape from sealed containers, safely dispose of any unused substances but be sure to do so when your garbage collection service deals with toxic substances. Eliminate, by removal or sealing, existing sources of formaldehyde and don’t introduce new ones.

Secondhand Smoke
Simple: Don't smoke at home or permit others to do so. Ask smokers to smoke outdoors.
If smoking indoors cannot be avoided, increase ventilation in the area where smoking takes place by opening windows or using exhaust fans – this will have an adverse affect on your energy consumption.
Do not smoke around children, particularly infants and toddlers.

In addition to the measures noted above, keep in mind that “exterior-grade" pressed wood products emit lower levels of formaldehyde because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins. Also, the amount of formaldehyde that is released can depend on heat and humidity, so controlling the indoor climate to moderate heat and humidity levels can cut down on emissions from pre-existing sources; be sure to regularly empty and clean humidifier collection pans to prevent them from becoming a breeding ground for biological contaminants. Sealing surfaces with a non-formaldehyde-emitting sealant may also help for a period of time but be sure to seal every surface and edge.

Lead and Dust Particulate Matter Reduction During Construction

Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead. Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family. If your project involves removing paint, sanding, patching, scraping, or tearing down walls or any other job that may require you to break through a painted surface (like replacing windows or doors, moldings, plumbing fixtures, heating and ventilation duct work, or electrical systems) then you may risk releasing lead dust or fumes.

First, determine if you have any lead paint. Areas that get a lot of wear and tear, such as windows and doors, pose the greatest risk because the paint will deteriorate faster due to the friction of surfaces rubbing against each other, and the lead can become airborne each time the painted surface is moved. A “paint inspection” will tell you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home, but won’t analyze whether it poses a risk. A “risk assessment” will tell you if you are currently subject to any sources of lead exposure and what to do to mitigate the risk. Lead inspectors trained and certified by the EPA or the state conduct visual inspections, use an x-ray fluorescence machine that measures the amount of lead in paint, and send paint samples to a lab for testing and test dust. Home test kits may not be reliable and the EPA recommends that homeowners not rely on them before doing renovations. To find a certified lead professional see The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene website which has a comprehensive list of information resources on lead. The Environmental Network website  has listings for lead contractors in New York City and nationwide. Or call the EPA at 1-(888) LEADLIST.

One basic rule is to never dry sand, dry scrape or use a heat gun or propane torch to remove leaded paint because these activities can release lead dust and fumes that can remain in the house long after the renovation is completed. If possible, the EPA recommends that you move out while demolition work is being done, particularly if you have children under 6 or are pregnant, and that you don’t return until the area has been thoroughly cleaned, however cleaning itself may not be enough unless you have thoroughly sealed all airducts, vents etc. before the work was done. Lead dust can come to rest out of your reach.

Eliminating the risk of lead exposure during renovation is thoroughly dealt with in the EPA booklet entitled "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home". This brochure explains what to do before, during, and after renovations and includes very clear instructions about the precautions summarized below. Most are very easy to implement, common sense precautions and make sense when doing a renovation whether or not there is a lead hazard because they are extremely effective in reducing the level of dust that gets into the non-work areas of the house. The procedures involve the use of relatively inexpensive materials (plastic, tape, respirators that are readily accessible at hardware stores, overalls, buckets, cleaning products) and a bit of extra time setting up the work area, but the result in protecting the rest of your home from dust can be tremendous.
Also refer to the EPA’s guidelines “Lead Paint Safety, A Field Guide for Painting, Home Maintenance, and Renovation Work“ for excellent step-by-step work procedures.

Before you start the work:
• Remove furniture, area rugs, curtains, food and clothing.

• Cover the floor and furnishings that can’t be removed (counters, shelving etc.) with a layer of 6 mils or higher polyethylene plastic sheeting. Cover all openings, air ducts and gaps around pipes, with plastic and duct tape.

• Create an air seal with plastic over the doorway in and out of which workers will travel to the work area.

• Turn off forced-air heating and air conditioning systems during renovation and remodeling and seal all vents with plastic and duct tape. Keep windows closed unless you are using volatile chemicals and need ventilation – eliminate this complication by choosing no-VOC options.

Refer to the pamphlets for detailed instructions on what to do during the work, which includes taking the following precautions:
• Clean dust with a HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner
• Use NIOSH certified respirators equipped with HEPA filters (always purple)
• Wear, and isolate from other household laundry, protective clothing. Leave contaminated shoes in the work area or wash them including the soles (a pan of water for dipping your feet and a towel can work), before leaving the area, and remove contaminated clothing and keep it sealed until it can be washed separately
• Use wet sanding equipment and spray bottles to minimize dust and prevent it from spreading.
• Work on small, contained areas at a time and completely clean up before moving on.
• Use all-purpose cleaners or those designed to clean up lead dust, for washing surfaces and equipment etc., and dispose of all contaminated waste water down they toilet.
• Refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in the work area, and implement the personal clean-up precautions of showering and washing your hair as soon as possible.

The booklet also describes procedures for working outdoors, for preparing walls for wallpapering, removing carpeting, floor refinishing, replacing windows and cleaning up lead waste.

In addition, it is possible to buy dust wall kits for building a kind of vestibule around doorways for creating a dust barrier. The kits consist of spring-loaded poles that hold themselves up between wall and ceiling, to which plastic can be attached in order to build plastic walls. Also, by installing a fan in a window to direct air to the outside, preferably with a HEPA filter to remove particulate matter and potential hazardous substances like lead dust from the outgoing air stream, you can remove dust from the work area and create a negative pressure in the work area that also helps keep the dust from traveling to other parts of the house.