Avoid Costly Homebuying Mistakes: Environmental Concerns Part 1

by Larry Kostaneski, PE

Copyright 1998 Centerline Press

The term "environmental concerns" covers a very wide area of inquiry. To begin, we will explore various categories that fall under this subject heading.

Air, water and soil are considered environmental media. That is, each is at risk from contamination from different sources, each reacts differently to that contamination, and each poses a different problem for the home buyer. In addition, each medium can be contaminated in at least three ways: introduction, presence and naturally occurring.

Introduction takes the form of spills or leaks from stationary containers or nearby processes, or from transient sources like trucks or ships. It is extremely rare today when an accidental spill or leak goes unnoticed. Waterfront property or property near rail lines or truck routes is obviously more vulnerable than other places. It is the risk we take for living in an industrial society.

Presence is when contamination exists in a medium due to some historical use. If a subdivision is built over or near an old landfill or industrial site, for example, hazardous substances could surface because of the disturbance caused by housing construction. The presence of existing hazardous contaminants is difficult to detect. Some states require environmental surveys of land before development proceeds. This is not universal; there are some horror stories out there about neighborhoods suddenly discovering an alarming increase in illness, ultimately linked to a hazardous chemical residue in the area not detected before development.

Naturally occurring substances exist in nature without any assistance from us. We simply choose to build homes where these substances exist. Radon is a commonly recognized example.

As you can see, environmental concerns can be obvious or most unexpected. Future segments will explore the details of each type of contamination, how to search out the facts, and what you can do to avoid a very expensive and possibly harmful mistake.

Next Time: Environmental Concerns: Part 2

Mr. Kostaneski is a registered professional engineer, former government regulatory official, owner of an engineering consulting firm and author of "A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality". He regularly contributes articles to The Dollar Stretcher.

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