How to detect toxins in your home

HOUSTON - Mold, radon and asbestos are three common toxins that can cause major health problems if you're exposed over a long period of time. There are ways to detect these toxins and remove them from your home.

Mold is the most common threat. There's usually a small amount of it in every house. But if left unchecked, it can destroy your home and cause shortness of breath and infections of the lungs.

Rebecca Shopp found a lot of mold in her home.

"When it got to the point where it was growing mushrooms, then I was more concerned. They found a lot more mold than I was expecting," Shopp said.

Angie Hicks from Angie's List also recommends hiring a professional if the mold covers anything greater than 10 square feet.

"First thing you want to do is have your house tested by an independent tester who sends it to a lab to have the results analyzed," Hicks advised.

Mike Honan is an asbestos abatement contractor. He explained why it's important to hire a professional to deal with certain toxins.

"Because once you disturb the mold then the spores tend to spread, so we are trying to, in our situation, control that environment," Honan said.

Radon is another toxin that might be in your home. It's an odorless, colorless gas that is actually the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. You can test for it in your home.

"If it reads too high, you need to have a mitigation system," according to Hicks.

We've all heard about asbestos. Long-term exposure can cause different forms of cancer.

"It was most often used in insulation and construction materials prior to the 1980s. So if your house is built before 1980, your home might be at risk and the only way to discover whether you have it is to have your home tested," Hicks explained.

The key here is to have a test performed by an independent expert, not the same person who is fixing the problem.

Here are Angie Hicks' six steps to hiring reliable help for any toxic removal:

  1. Determine if your state requires contractors to be licensed for the work you need done.
  2. Hire only contractors who are licensed and/or certified to handle household toxins, and can prove their qualifications for your specific need.
  3. Determine what steps your contractor will use to ensure the work won't further spread the problem.
  4. If your contractor doesn't talk to you about the concerns the toxin poses, doesn't have a containment plan or isn't aware of the dangers the work can create, hire someone else.
  5. Get more than one estimate for the work and require follow-up and a guarantee for the work.
  6. Get and check references, using people who've worked with the professional before, and check Angie's List for even more insight.

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