Ageing Buildings: Understanding the Health Risks

They are charming, elegant, and hold the stories of the regions where they are located. Of course, we are talking about the old buildings that populate our cities. However, it’s essential to recognise that significant risks may also be hidden behind the extensive history and beauty. Discover the most dangerous health risks in old buildings.

The Dangers of an Old Building


Asbestos is a type of mineral widely used in construction in the past for its fire-resistant, insulating, and durable properties. However, over the years, researchers discovered that asbestos poses a significant health danger. The use of asbestos in the construction industry has been banned since the 2000s, but many old buildings still contain the substance, which, when inhaled, can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that leads to scarring (fibrosis) of the lung tissue. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent cough, and, in severe cases, heart failure.

Mesothelioma, in turn, is a rare form of cancer that primarily affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) but can also affect the lining of the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma) and other organs.

These are only a few examples of the health problems caused by asbestos; it can also lead to cancer in the lungs, ovaries, larynx, stomach and intestines.

If you lost a loved one due to asbestos, remember that you have rights. Make an asbestos claim after death to secure the support your family needs in this challenging time.

Faulty Wiring

Let those who have never neglected faulty wiring in an old building cast the first stone. This is a common problem, but that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Overloaded circuits, damaged wires, and poor connections can overheat, causing fires that can spread quickly. This risk becomes even more significant because the fire can start inside the walls, without anyone noticing the first signs of tragedy.

Furthermore, exposed wires can cause electrocution, especially in damp environments like bathrooms and kitchens.

Stay alert to the signs. Feeling a mild shock or tingling when touching appliances or metal objects connected to the home’s electrical system can signal grounding issues or faults in the wiring. Moreover, a circuit breaker that frequently trips may indicate overloaded circuits.

Unusual noises from outlets or switches can signal loose connections or other issues, and a persistent burning smell without a discernible source could indicate overheating wires. Signs of burning or discolouration around outlets or switch plates can also suggest a malfunctioning electrical system.

Damp and Mould

Another widespread problem in old buildings is dampness and mould. Although they seem harmless, dampness and mould can cause numerous health problems. After all, it’s important to remember that mould is a living organism. In fact, several living organisms. It is a fungus that reproduces through the production of tiny spores that are invisible to the human eye.

Mould exposure can cause various health issues, particularly for people with allergies, existing respiratory conditions, or compromised immune systems. Common problems associated with mould exposure include respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, as well as nasal and sinus congestion.

Individuals who come into contact with mould can suffer from irritation of the eyes, skin, and throat. In severe cases, mould exposure can exacerbate asthma or allergic reactions.

Damp and mould arise when excess moisture accumulates within the building, either from internal sources like leaking pipes and condensation or external sources such as rainwater penetration due to damaged roofing or walls.

Lead Paint

Lead paint refers to any paint that contains lead, a toxic metal that causes a wide range of problems, especially in children and pregnant women. Historically, lead was added to paint to accelerate drying, increase durability, maintain a fresh appearance, and resist moisture that causes corrosion. However, its use has been significantly restricted or banned in many countries due to the health risks associated with lead exposure.

Lead is particularly harmful to children’s developing brains and nervous systems, resulting in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, behavioural problems, and slowed growth. In adults, it causes reproductive problems, high blood pressure, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and muscle and joint pain.

Since lead paint is not hazardous unless it is deteriorating or disturbed, managing its presence in older buildings is crucial. If your property was built before the 1990s (or later, depending on when it was banned in your country), it’s wise to have it inspected. Professional testing can determine the presence and concentration of lead in paint, dust, and soil around the residence.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is highly toxic to humans and animals. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels such as gas, oil, wood, and coal. When inhaled, carbon monoxide binds with haemoglobin in the blood, forming carboxyhemoglobin, which significantly reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to body tissues and vital organs. This leads to serious health consequences, such as headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving the affected area. Moderate exposure can cause confusion, drowsiness, and fast heart rate. These symptoms can become life-threatening with prolonged exposure.

Convulsions, unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death are also possible in cases of severe exposure. Treatment often involves administering 100% oxygen using a mask, which helps to remove carbon monoxide from the blood quickly. Furthermore, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used. This involves placing the person in a pressurised chamber to rapidly replace CO with oxygen in the blood.


Old buildings have a natural appeal as they are historical records of a city’s evolution. However, they are also products of their time, carrying risks that were still unknown when they were built. Be aware of these risks to preserve your health and that of your family.


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