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Four Proposals to Make Homes Healthier through Better Model Codes: ICC Member Vote by May 26

Building a home that lasts generations, withstands the elements, is energy efficient, and keeps us safe all at a reasonable cost is a marvel in engineering, design, and management. Renovations are even more complicated as we adapt the latest designs into homes built decades ago.

With thousands of contractors working on millions of homes every year, we rely on our local building code officials to ensure the work is done properly. We may not like it when they take too long to issue a permit for our kitchen remodeling or stop work when the contractor is cutting corners, but without their oversight, most homeowners have no way of knowing whether they got what they paid for from the contractor.

Many state and local code officials rely on model codes from the International Code Council (ICC) when they issue permits. These model codes often incorporate by reference regulations by federal agencies, but only when the code officials vote to support proposals in a three-year consensus process cycle led by ICC. Contractors have to comply with both the code and the federal regulations, but code officials only consider the model code as adapted to their community.

In April, in the first step of the most recent ICC consensus process, committees considered and did not approve four proposals that will make our homes healthier and safer. All ICC members now have until May 26 to vote for healthier homes. Then the proposals will be open for public comments and potential revisions before a final vote by the voting government official members of ICC in October. The following are the proposals and their ICC-assigned official number.


A. ADM78-16: Ensuring that only EPA- or state-certified contractors disturb lead-based paint [pdf of proposal]

To obtain a permit to renovate housing and child care centers, contractors must submit extensive documentation so the code official can verify the work will comply with the code and be conducted properly. NCHH and others proposed requiring that those documents include the EPA- or state-issued lead-safe renovation firm certificate when disturbing paint in multifamily housing and childcare facilities built before 1978.

Since 2010, contractors have been required to be certified in order to conduct this work in order to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule. There are minor exemptions for zero-bedroom apartments, housing only for the elderly, or when very small amounts of paint are being disturbed. Contractors become "lead-safe certified" when they promise to follow the rule, use trained people to supervise the work, and pay a fee.

NCHH and others crafted the proposal to protect children from dangerous but invisible lead-contaminated dust too easily left behind when contractors don’t use lead-safe work practices. These work practices were designed to prevent generating dust, enable easier cleanup in case dust is made, and check the work to ensure it was done properly. The National Association of Remodeling Industries (NARI) supported the proposal because it levels the playing field so that uncertified contractors do not undercut those who are certified and committed to following the rules.

EPA representatives testified at the hearing and strongly supported the proposal. They cited successes in similar approaches in the state of Minnesota and in the cities of Milwaukee, WI; Rochester, NY; and Oakland, CA. When the Minnesota legislature mandated the requirement, EPA saw a 40% increase in certifications for renovators – a sign of success. They made clear that the code official would only have to ensure the contractor has a valid certificate, not verify that the work was done properly – that's EPA’s job.

This proposal only affects multifamily housing and child-occupied facilities. A matching proposal for single-family homes and for townhouses is not up for a vote in May but will be in October.


B. RB361-16: Ensuring that homeowners choosing radon-resistant features in new home construction get a system that functions properly [pdf of proposal]

When a homeowner wants a home built to prevent radon from coming into the home from the ground, they demand “radon-resistant new construction.” It costs about $1,200 and helps to protect residents from the second leading cause of lung cancer. But it only works if it is installed properly.

The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) proposed a change to the International Residential Code (IRC) to provide that a code official has a basis to inspect the work to ensure the system functions as designed.


C. RB152-16: Allowing below-grade foam insulation to be free of brominated flame retardants
[pdf of proposal]

The current IRC requires that foam insulation contain flame retardants even if the foam is sandwiched between the concrete foundation and the ground outside. The chemicals serve no purpose in this situation. Providing architects, builders, and homeowners with the option for foam insulation free from flame retardants is important given the serious health questions that have been raised about some of these chemicals, especially brominated flame retardants.

A coalition led by the Green Science Policy Institute proposed giving architects, builders, and homeowners the ability to choose flame-retardant-free foam insulation for below-grade uses. Mandating the use of chemicals that serve no purpose and may create a health risk is contrary to the ICC’s purpose of protection health, safety, and general welfare.


D. PM7-16: Requiring carbon monoxide alarms in all homes with combustion sources or an attached garage [pdf of proposal]

The International Fire Code (IFC) and the IRC require a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm in all homes with combustion sources, such as a fireplace or gas-fired appliance, or with an attached garage. These alarms protect residents from brain damage or death when combusting appliances fail or when air from a garage with an idling car is pulled into the home. More than 300 people die each year from CO poisoning.

As of 2011, 49 million homes – 46% of owner-occupied and 33% of renters – had CO alarms. NCHH proposed adding the CO alarm requirement to the International Property Maintenance Code to better ensure the likelihood of a home receiving one since the homes the code inspector visits are the ones most neglected and most likely to have a malfunctioning gas-fired appliance.

The objective of the model codes is to protect public health, safety, and welfare. Each of these proposals are narrowly crafted to accomplish that objective with minimal burden on the code official, the contractor, and the owner. Each deserves approval by the ICC and provides a common approach for states and local jurisdictions to consider when they adapt the model code to the needs of their community.

Find It, Fix It, Fund It: A Bold Call to Action to Eliminate Lead Poisoning

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the steering committee of the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition) have issued a call for national action to eliminate lead poisoning in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

Today they jointly announced the release of Find It, Fix It, Fund It, a bold new action drive to eliminate lead poisoning. The drive urges muscular national action by Congress and the Administration to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to eliminate lead paint hazards and lead pipes.

It's simple yet comprehensive: Find lead hazards, eliminate them, and build the political will to create key public and private investments and policies to do so.

As part of the drive, NCHH and the Coalition are leading initiatives to eliminate lead paint hazards and dramatically increase lead poisoning surveillance and home-based follow-up services and will support allies and partners in eliminating lead hazards in water and other sources.
Please join us in eliminating childhood lead poisoning:
  • Sign up to participate in the drive and/or add your organization’s logo to it. Select the box for the Find It, Fix It, Fund It Lead Elimination Action Drive round table, and we’ll send you details on the first round table meeting, scheduled for May 25, 2016, at 1 p.m. EDT.
  • Sign on in support of the drive’s principles in a letter to Congress and federal agencies.
  • We’d love your feedback on the drive: Send your thoughts to Julie Kruse.
A declaration supporting these principles passed unanimously at the Lead and Healthy Housing Conference on May 5, 2016, with support from the Coalition, the Lead and Environmental Hazards Association, and the National Association of Lead and Healthy Homes Grantees. We urge you to join the drive too!

“Eliminating lead poisoning could be America’s greatest public health success story of our time, similar to eliminating cholera and other epidemics caused in part by inadequate housing a century ago,” said Coalition’s steering committee member Roberta Hazen Aaronson, Executive Director of the Childhood Lead Action Project.

For more information on NCHH’s lead advocacy, click here. Click here to learn more about the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition.

Let’s win the fight against lead poisoning!

NCHH and Coalition Campaign on Capitol Hill

As African refugees who immigrated to Rhode Island in 2007 to start a new life, Teddi Jallow and her husband were excited and proud when they were able to become homeowners and achieve a piece of the American dream; but she was also worried about the safety of young family they were starting. They’d invested all of their savings in an older home in Rhode Island, one that they now suspected might contain lead hazards, and had no funds left over to correct the hazard. Thankfully, the City of Providence’s HUD-funded lead remediation grant program enabled this vulnerable family to address potential lead hazards proactively and protect their children’s health.

Ms. Jallow shared her story with members of Congress on February 10, when National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition) members and National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) staff took to Capitol Hill for a full day of meetings with senators and representatives to highlight the vital need for full funding for lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes, particularly in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Ms. Jallow met with Senator Jack Reed (D, RI), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) to explained how a HUD-funded remediation grant from the City of Providence made it possible for her family to afford the necessary home improvements that have kept her children lead-free.

Betty and James Cantley of Cleveland, Ohio, had a very different tale to tell. Their son, Jason,
Betty Cantley with her sons, circa 1994. Jason Cantley is sitting in the baby seat.suffered permanent injury from lead dust exposure as an infant, the result of a contractor renovation that failed to meet lead safety requirements. The Cantleys described their family’s continuing journey with lead poisoning. “[When Jason] started breathing it in,” Betty told the members and their staff, “he was less than a month old; his brain was developing, and his synapses were forming. It was the most crucial point of his life.” Betty’s and James’ compelling story describes the struggles of a family faced with the news that their son was needlessly exposed to dangerous levels of lead dust, how they coped, how essential programs at all governmental levels helped their boy to graduate from high school, and how Jason has become a productive member of society despite facing daily challenges stemming from his early lead exposure.

The Cantleys and Ms. Jallow were among the 27 attendees, hailing from 12 target states and the District of Columbia, who joined NCHH Executive Director Nancy Rockett Eldridge, Director of Policy Julie Kruse, Director of Research Jonathan Wilson, and Project Manager Laura Fudala on Capitol Hill to present to over 80 senators and representatives, more than doubling the number of offices visited in 2015—itself a highly successful campaign. Their purpose was to share their personal stories and educate members of Congress on the importance and impact of lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes programs for their constituents’ respective states and districts as the members soon consider and make critical funding decisions.

Members of Congress from both parties were strongly supportive of the Coalition’s requests to increase funding to expand CDC’s lead poisoning surveillance, prevention, and healthy homes activities nationwide. Funding at $35 million for CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program would support lead poisoning surveillance activities in all 50 states and greatly enhance abilities to identify and respond quickly to future lead poisoning outbreaks.

Further, families of children with elevated blood lead levels, representatives of housing and health agencies, and concerned advocates demanded that Congress take a proactive approach for primary prevention, calling for $230 million annually over 10 years for HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. This amount was recommended by the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children in its Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards to ensure that lead hazards are identified and controlled in low-income homes.

Due to governmental belt-tightening over the last several years, funding to these HUD and CDC programs was cut drastically. Some of the funding has been partially restored, and Coalition members thanked Congress for increasing lead poisoning prevention, healthy homes, and asthma control by $3 million last year. By sharing local stories, attendees pointed to the benefits and cost savings of prevention. Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy, said Coalition members, as they urged Congress to restore full funding to stop the harm to America’s children. Other highlights of the day included:

  • Lenora Smith and other representatives from the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health (PEACH) of Durham, North Carolina, met for an hour with Representative David Price (D, NC-4) to update him on home health hazards in his district. They also thanked Representative Price for offering two amendments to increase healthy homes and lead hazard control funding, and for discussing PEACH’s efforts in Durham combating lead poisoning at a hearing last year.
  • Other attendees described the prevention and hazard control services in their homes states that have helped promote health, elevate their communities, and protect families.
  • Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D, NY-25) and her staff hosted a breakfast orientation to launch the day, and attendees appreciated the opportunity to thank her for her long-time championing of healthy homes issues in Congress.
  • Attendees from Rhode Island and New Hampshire also thanked Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) for leading sign-on letters, and Representative Slaughter for increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes. Mainers also expressed gratitude to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her long-standing support for ending lead poisoning, and her supportive comments at a hearing last year.

Results from the Coalition’s Hill visit were immediately apparent in the large increase of signatories to this year’s congressional sign-on letters:

  • 75 representatives signed on to Representative Slaughter and Representative Cicilline’s letter to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (51 more than last year).
  • 24 senators signed on to Senator Reed’s and/or Senator Shaheen’s letters to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (5 more than last year).

NCHH and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition wish to thank the Childhood Lead Action Project, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Habitat for Humanity International, and Rebuilding Together for helping to staff this successful day! 

Bring Back Housecalls . . . and Fix the House

In his October 14, 2015, opinion in The New York Times, cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar lists two major reasons why the revival of doctor housecalls makes sense: better patient outcomes and savings to the health care system, primarily due to reductions in re-hospitalizations and better care coordination. He recounts a stirring anecdote about his visit to a patient’s home, where his observations of the patient’s living conditions gave the doctor new insights about why this patient had been hospitalized four times in six months.

The link between the home and a person’s health, and the need for clinicians to ask about patients’ home conditions, is something that we here at NCHH have focused on for years. People spend 90% of their time in their homes, and vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly spend even more. But clinicians tend to focus on the patients’ medical treatment, without realizing that conditions in their patients’ home can thwart these medical efforts and land patients right back in the hospital. Hazards at home can also cause such a great decline in health and function that the patient faces the trauma of moving away from his/her lifelong home and into a care facility.

While Dr. Jauhar notes the insight the home visit gave him, he doesn’t recount the steps he then took to alleviate the adverse conditions he observed. He did not discuss the housing structure itself, which can play an enormous part in the health of residents. For example, deferred home maintenance, a common problem for elderly homeowners, can lead to escalating health and safety hazards in the home, including faulty electrical wiring posing burn and fire hazards, torn and uneven flooring and shaky or missing stair railings leading to fall hazards, and faulty ventilation systems exacerbating respiratory ailments or posing asphyxiation hazards.

We at NCHH support home visits by clinicians, be they doctors, nurses, or occupational therapists. If they can’t go to homes, clinicians need to take the time during office visits to ask patients about home conditions. Clinicians should have a ready list to refer patients to organizations that can help fix home-related issues, e.g., Meals on Wheels, free prescription mail delivery services, local housing agencies for minor home repairs, and other community organizations that can arrange transportation for homebound residents. Improvement in resident health on a national scale is possible, but only if we take steps to both medically treat people and intervene in their homes.

Remembering Congressman Stokes

Rep. Louis Stokes (D-OH) passed away Tuesday after a battle with cancer at age 90. More than anyone, he was responsible for launching the nation's healthy homes effort at HUD more than a decade ago and was a tireless supporter of our nation's lead poisoning prevention program. Terry Allan (now commissioner at the Cuyahoga County Health Department) and Dr. Dorr Dearborn (now professor  emeritus at Case Western) brought to his attention the importance of addressing housing-related health hazards and he took action. I had the distinct honor of working with him while I was at HUD and he led the HUD appropriations subcommittee in the House; I knew him as a truly visionary leader, one of those rare individuals who really did achieve an ability to reach across the aisle and insist our country do the right thing and get things done. Just a few years ago, he was honored in Cleveland for his healthy homes work and other achievements and I remember him saying something like, "I don't really know what all this fuss is about, I'm just a kid who grew up in public housing who wanted to do the right thing for our children." He was an inspiration to us all. See this link for more details.  

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