Environmental hazards in the home harm millions of children each year, and lurk in unsuspecting homes across the country. Environmental Professionals can help protect the health of children and families in their community by understanding the connection between health and housing, and how to take a holistic approach to identify and resolve problems that threaten the health and well-being of residents.
The following environmental hazards can pose serious threats to health when found in the home:
Lead paint was commonly used in homes built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned. Lead-base paint is still present in millions of homes in the United States, sometimes under layers of newer paint. As lead paint deteriorates (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, water damage) it presents a major risk for lead poisoning. Lead paint is especially hazardous when found on surfaces that children can chew, or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as windows/window sills, door frames, railings, etc.
Lead poisoning in children is known to cause behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems, and anemia. Rare, more serious, cases of lead poisoning can cause seizures, coma and even death.
Mold is found in areas where water damage has occurred or where perpetual moisture is a problem, such as poorly ventilated bathrooms.
Exposure to mold produces an array of symptoms, with respiratory issues being the most common. Children can experience congestion, sore/itchy throat, coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and increased risk of asthma. More serious symptoms of prolonged exposure to toxic molds include circulatory symptoms, vascular problems, and neurological symptoms.
Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. According to the US EPA, nearly 1 in 3 homes checked in seven states and on three Native American reservations had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.
In almost all cases of elevated indoor radon levels, the culprit is the underlying soil. Radon gas in the soil and rock can move into the air and into underground water and surface water.
Pests in the home, such as cockroaches, other insects, and rodents, can agitate and cause asthma or other respiratory issues. Pests are also known to carry and spread some nasty diseases.
Pests are drawn to food and moisture, and will most commonly be found in kitchens and bathrooms. While pests such as cockroaches are more prevalent in humid climates, they can be an issue in homes world-wide. Multi-family units are often more susceptible to pest infestations.
Many homes built before 1980 contain asbestos in old floor tiles, ceiling tiles, roof shingles and flashing, siding, insulation (around boilers, ducts, pipes, sheeting, fireplaces), pipe cement, and joint compound used on seams between pieces of sheetrock.
Asbestos becomes a hazard when it is airborne. If asbestos in the home becomes damaged, asbestos fibers may be released. For example, blown ceilings (often referred to as popcorn ceilings) containing asbestos may release fibers when they are drilled, patched, or damaged.
Asbestos exposure can cause serious diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer.
While these potential hazards in the home can sound scary and overwhelming, Environmental Professionals can help families in their community live healthier, happier lives by learning to identify and mitigate these hazards.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes Initiative aims to address health hazards in the home through training and resources.
Environmental Professionals should attend the 1-day course, Healthy Homes Essentials for Environmental Professionals to help make healthy homes a reality in their communities. Click here to see the next offering near you!
Training is made available in the Pacific Northwest through the the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Building Performance Center (BPC), and Community Services Consortium (CSC) serving Linn, Benton, and Lincoln Counties.