Despite ongoing efforts to improve safety standards in construction, hazardous building materials from past projects still linger, presenting challenges for modern builders. The remnants of older practices, such as asbestos and lead-based paints, underscore the importance of continued vigilance and proactive measures in the industry.
In this article, we will discuss various types of hazardous building materials that you need to be aware of to ensure your commercial property is safe and compliant.
What types of hazardous building materials in construction are there?
Once a construction industry staple due to its insulating and fire-resistant properties, asbestos poses severe health risks when its microscopic fibres are airborne. Despite widespread awareness, the legacy of asbestos in older buildings necessitates careful handling and removal during renovation or demolition.
Present in various construction materials, including lead-based paints, lead pipes, and lead-based solder used in plumbing systems, lead is a hazardous substance known for its detrimental health effects, especially in children. Persistence in the environment, particularly in older structures with lead-based paints, requires proper remediation measures for public health and safety.
Widely used in fluorescent lights and thermostats, mercury is a toxic heavy metal with potential health and environmental implications. Inhalation or ingestion of mercury vapours can harm the nervous system, necessitating responsible handling and disposal to mitigate human health risks and ecological impact.
Found in adhesives and pressed wood products, formaldehyde poses significant health risks, including respiratory problems and carcinogenic effects. Proper ventilation and the use of low-emission building materials are crucial to reduce formaldehyde concentrations in indoor environments.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
Historically used in electrical equipment and insulation, PCBs are persistent organic pollutants linked to adverse health effects. Although phased out in the late 1970s, careful handling and disposal of materials containing PCBs are essential due to their persistence in the environment.
A naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon poses a silent health risk when it seeps into buildings. Prolonged exposure is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, highlighting the need for testing and mitigation measures, such as ventilation systems, to minimise health risks.
Present in paints, wood preservatives, and cement, chromium, especially hexavalent chromium, poses significant health risks upon inhalation or skin contact. Proper safety measures and awareness are crucial in construction settings to protect workers and inhabitants.
Found in construction materials like concrete and sand, as well as engineered stone (a.k.a. agglomerated stone) which was banned in Australia in December 2023, silica dust poses a serious health risk when inhaled over time, leading to diseases such as silicosis. Effective dust control measures, including ventilation and personal protective equipment, are crucial in construction environments.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Present in paints, adhesives, and solvents, VOCs contribute to indoor air pollution and various health issues. Using low-VOC or VOC-free products, ensuring adequate ventilation, and implementing indoor air quality measures are essential in construction and living spaces.
Certain foams used in construction may release harmful chemicals, affecting indoor air quality. Proper installation, ventilation, and the use of low-emission or eco-friendly foam products are crucial to mitigate potential risks. Regular monitoring and maintenance ensure a healthy indoor environment for occupants.