Risks to health usually result from exposure to harmful environmental conditions in the extraction, production and use of building materials, and the disposal of related wastes. The harmful conditions include exposure to dust, fumes, gases and vapours and toxic metals. The interaction of these factors and human organisms occurs either by absorption through the skin, by intake into the digestive track via the mouth, or by inhalation into the lungs. The results of the interaction can be harmful to human health in a variety of ways, including: respiratory diseases such as asthma, heart diseases, cancer, brain damage or poisoning. The effects of the hazards may be slow, cumulative, irreversible, and complicated by non-occupational factors such as smoking.
The quality of the built environment too affects its; inhabitants in many ways and is dependent not only on the architectural form and specification, but also on the quality and nature of materials used, the care taken in construction, the quality of building services, design and components, and the timely and effective maintenance of the building fabric and support systems. The risks of diseases are also increased when the dwelling’s barriers against insect and rodent vectors are inadequate or poorly maintained.
Some of the health hazards associated with building materials and the built-environment are well documented and programmes to reduce them are in place. Others are and will be the subject of current and future research, therefore remedial measures are not yet in place. Furthermore the indications, based on present knowledge, that a certain material is harmless to human health does not preclude possible discoveries of health hazards in future, bearing in mind the continuing advances in science and medicine.
The scope of this document is limited mainly to those hazards which are associated with the production and use of building materials, and to some extent the disposal of wastes. The document is divided into three sections: Section I, discusses the nature of health hazards associated with the production of building materials and their use and the demolition and disposal effects of some of the harmful materials and wastes; Section II, addresses the problems and constraints to the control of the harmful effects of building materials; and Section III, outlines a strategy for the control of health hazards focusing on the possible actions by the principal actors involved with the production and use of building materials. Prior to finalising the document, the first draft was sent to more than thirty leading agencies, professionals and experts in the field for their comments which have been incorporated into this document.
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