Breathe Easier About New Home: Do Some Environmental Research First

Phoenix may be a fine place to soak up some rays, just don't take a deep breath. According to the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz. region currently suffers more year-round air pollution than anywhere in the United States. Bakersfield, Calif. and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside areas trail close behind.

California also held the top spots for ozone pollution, claiming seven of the top 10 spots on the ALA's ozone pollution list. The effects on the health of those living in a high air-pollution spot can be devastating. The California Air Resources Board estimates that 18,000 Californians prematurely die from particle pollution each year and long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to lower lung function and to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The problem with studies like State of the Air is that it only measures air quality and gives no information on the comprehensive pollution content in a particular area. David Green, an environmental engineer for a Fortune 500 firm in Virginia, says that potential homebuyers trying to learn how clean a particular area is need to dig deeper.

"Homebuyers really need to look at air, surface water and groundwater quality in their immediate area as well as the kinds of industrial activity that are occurring around the property," says Green. "They'll also need to look at whether there's a major cleanup effort like a Superfund site anywhere nearby."

The best way to start the research process is by heading online to the Environmental Protection Agency's Environment by ZIP code search. In addition to providing homebuyers with information on toxic releases, hazardous waste and air emissions nearby, the site also offers a breakdown of airborne toxins in the area that are known to cause cancer. Green adds that local courthouses are caches of information for those shopping for a homes in an unfamiliar area.

"County governments usually have numbers on waste generation rates in a particular area, which should give you an idea of how much and what kind of waste is coming out of a certain place," says Green. "That information is usually readily available in small towns and cities. Larger places frequently ship their waste outside the city, so you'll have a tougher time tracking that information down."

Investing a few hours in digging up the dirt on the environmental quality of your future residence can ensure that your home value stays on the rise.

"It's the one thing nobody thinks of," adds Green, "until there's a problem."
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