Areas of concern

Major legislation

Responsibilities and liabilities

In recent years, federal and state legislatures have enacted laws to conserve and protect the environment against the hazards of growth and development, particularly in terms of air, water, and soil quality.

Regional, county, and local planners must integrate environmental laws into their respective land use plans and regulations. Private property owners are responsible for complying with these laws.

Areas of concern        

Air. Air quality, both indoor and outdoor, has been a matter of concern since the 1960’s. With today’s construction methods creating airtight, energy-efficient structures, attention to sources of indoor air pollution is more important than ever. Off-gassing from synthetic materials and lack of ventilation can lead to such consequences as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) and Building-Related Illness (BRI) as well as other health problems. Among the significant threats are:

  • asbestos, a powdery mineral once commonly used as a fireproof insulating material around pipes, in floor tiles and linoleum, in siding and roofing, in wallboard, joint compound, and many other applications.

    When airborne, it is a health hazard. Its use today is highly restricted, and removal can be expensive and dangerous. Inspection by a certified asbestos inspector is the best way to determine whether a building needs treatment.
  • carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that may result from faulty heating equipment. Home and commercial detection devices are available.
  • formaldehyde, a chemical used in building materials and in other items such as fabrics and carpeting. As it ages, formaldehyde gives off a colorless, pungent gas.

Its use in urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was banned 1982 (ban later reduced to a warning) but the material is still present in many structures. Other substances known in general as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and used in construction materials such as adhesives emit toxic fumes. Professional testing can identify levels and, in some cases, sources of formaldehyde gas and other VOCs.

  • lead, a heavy metal once widely used in paints and plumbing materials. It has been banned in paint since 1978 and in new plumbing since 1988.

It continues to be a health threat, particularly to children, as it occurs in airborne paint particles, paint chips, and soil and groundwater polluted by various external sources of emission. Inspection should be performed by licensed lead inspectors.

  • mold, a fungus that grows in the presence of moisture and oxygen on virtually any kind of organic surface.

It often destroys the material it grows on and emits toxic irritants into the air. Tightly sealed structures with inadequate ventilation are most susceptible. Roof leaks, improper venting of appliances, runoff from gutters and downspouts, and flood damage are common contributors. In recent years, mold- and mildew-related lawsuits and claims have become substantial.

  • radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the soil throughout the United States.

It enters buildings through foundation and floor cracks, wall seams, sump pits, and windows, among other ways. At accumulations above certain levels, it is suspected of contributing to cancer. Excessive radon can be removed by special ventilation systems. Professional and home inspections are available.

Structural damage. Wood-destroying organisms (WDO) are such an issue in Florida that WDO inspections are often required real estate transactions. Termites, certain beetles, and wood-decaying fungi fall under the category of wood-destroying organisms. Carpenter ants are not reportable as WDOs on the Florida report form.

Building inspections do not include WDOs. Instead, the property is inspected by a pest control company inspector who is licensed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The inspection must be completed in compliance with appropriate standards and must inspect for all forms of wood-destroying organisms.

If an inspection is performed for a real estate transaction, the report must be completed on a specific form required by Florida law, found online with instructions for its completion at https://www.fdacs.gov/content/download/3136/file/Instructions_for_13645.pdf .

The report is limited to the day and time of the inspection and does not include any anticipation of future WDO infestations. It includes the date of the inspection, the inspector’s business name and business license number, the types and number of structures inspected, the inspection findings, any obstructions or inaccessible areas, evidence of past treatment, whether or not the structure was treated at the time of inspection and all related details, and the following statement:

“Neither the licensee nor the inspector has any financial interest in the structure(s) inspected or is associated in any way in the transaction with any party other than for inspection purposes.”

The report should also state that the inspector has no association with the structures or parties to the transaction except for inspection purposes. One copy of the report goes to the person requesting the inspection. A second copy is to be posted in an easily visible access point to the property. A third copy is to be maintained by the inspection company for at least 3 years.

Soil and water. Soil, groundwater, and drinking water supplies are vulnerable to pollution from leaking landfills; improper waste disposal; agricultural runoff; industrial dumping in waterways; highway and rail spills; industrial emissions; internal combustion emissions; and underground tanks leaking fuels and chemicals, to mention but a few sources. Some of the problems subject to controls are:

  • dioxins, a family of compounds produced as a byproduct of manufacturing and incinerating materials that contain chlorine
  • leadand mercury
  • MTBE, Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, a gasoline additive
  • PCB, Polychlorinated Biphenyl, a substance formerly widely used as an electrical insulation
  • Underground Storage Tanks (USTs), regulated since 1984
  • Wetlands, considered part of the natural water filtering system as well as special habitats, subject to restrictions on development and use.

Other ambient and natural conditions. Other regulated and controlled environmental conditions include:

  • Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) created by powerlines
  • noise created by airports, air, rail and highway traffic
  • earthquake and flood hazards that affect hazard insurance, lending practices, and construction requirements for buildings in designated flood and earthquake zones.