When purchasing a piece of property, it is important to be aware of any environmental liabilities associated with it. For example, you should find out if there are any registered underground tanks within several miles of the property, any known contaminated properties in the neighborhood, or any property owners who have been fined by the government for failing to meet environmental safety standards.
Before, it took a costly site investigation for the information, but now there are online environmental databases available at a fraction of the cost. Anyone can access reports on otherwise hard to detect environmental issues. With these databases, it is possible to obtain a listing of hazards near a property, or spills and violations attributed to businesses nearby.
Some reputable databases include VISTA Information Systems, located in San Diego, California, which allows you to register and search the data bank for free, and E Data Resources, which is located in Southport, Connecticut. These services are all relatively inexpensive, but can provide you with priceless information that is useful before you make a purchase.
Lead poisoning is a serious problem which can lead to adverse health problems. In children, high levels of lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, behavioral and learning problems, slow growth, and hearing problems. In adults, lead poisoning can cause reproductive problems, high blood pressure, digestive problems, nerve disorder, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.
Lead poisoning is especially a problem in cities with older buildings. Typically, lead is present in the paint from older buildings, in the water supply, and in the environment from cars and buses. Preventing lead poisoning in large cities, where there is so much possibility for exposure is both difficult and expensive. Federal programs have attempted to address this problem.
For buyers and sellers, lead poisoning is also an issue. Houses that were built before 1978 probably have paint that contains lead. Federal law requires that sellers disclose known information on lead-base paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a federal form about lead-based paint in the building. Buyers will have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards and are likely to stipulate corrections.
Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that has been estimated to cause 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths yearly. It is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. It has been estimated that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the US has elevated radon levels.
Radon is produced when small amounts of uranium and radium in soil and rocks decay. Radon gas will also decay into smaller and radioactive particles that can be inhaled into the lungs where it can damage cells and cause lung cancer.
Radon is mainly released from soil, water and natural gas which have already been exposed to radon, from solar-heating systems that use radon-emitting rocks, and from uranium or phosphate mine tailings. Radon is naturally released in low concentrations, but inside your house, radon gas can become more concentrated. Lack of ventilation exhaust fans that bring in air from outside can increase the amount of radon in your home.
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that homes be tested for radon, which should have a radon level of 4 picocuries per liter or less. For people selling their homes, the EPA recommends that the house be tested for radon, and radon levels be reduced, if necessary. Radon levels can be reduced by increasing the airflow into the house, keeping the vents open year round, and discouraging smoking in the house. For people buying homes, the EPA recommends obtaining radon test results in addition to information about radon reduction systems.
If you are planning to have your home tested for radon, the EPA recommends that the test be conducted in the lowest level of the home that is suitable for occupancy, and you should make sure that the test is done correctly by following the EPA Test Checklist.
There are two different types of testing devices available: passive devices and active devices. Passive devices, such as charcoal canisters, alpha track detectors, and charcoal liquid scintillation devices are exposed to air in the home for a specified amount of time, and sent to a laboratory to be analyzed. Active devices, like continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors, continuously measure and record the amount of radon in the air, and require operation by trained testers. These tests can be performed over a long term, or a short term, with the long term tests by active devices considered to be more accurate.
Underground Heating Oil Tanks
Underground heating oil tanks can pose many potential problems to both home buyers and sellers. They have been the source of many environmental problems such as contamination of surrounding soil and ground water.
Leaks are caused by the rust inside underground tanks, or by an electrical condition sparked by electric utility lines.
Buyers should have the tank inspected to make sure that it is structurally sound. Buyers who do not want an underground fuel tank can arrange for an above ground tank to be installed in the basement, an underground tank to be shut off. Cleanups of any leaks will also have to be taken care of.
For buyers, the underground heating oil tank should be written in the sales contract. For sellers, your lawyer should make sure that the description and condition of the underground heating oil is accurate and up-to-date.