Insert:    
Visibility:     Module:   

Blog Posts

Introducing NCHH's Healthy Housing Fact Sheets: EPA Region 2


This is the second installment in a 10-part blog series. Read about EPA Region 1 here.

One of the struggles for those of us on the policy team here at the National Center for Healthy Housing is creating resources that are useful for individuals and organizations working at the state and local levels while still reflecting the wider healthy homes movement. Belief in the power of individual and community stories and needs forms a core pillar of our advocacy work. At the same time, one of the strongest truths we speak to is that no problem is isolated. Yes, paying attention to state and local perspectives and challenges informs us about the unique situation in each place. But it also illuminates how universal many of these problems really are.

In an effort to demonstrate this dual message, NCHH created 53 state healthy housing profiles, covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. as a whole. On each sheet, you‘ll find eight statistics about the healthy housing situation in your state and learn which of 11 programs at CDCHUD, and EPA have given money to your state in the past three years. Covered topics include asthma prevalence and financial burden, childhood lead poisoning numbers and age of housing, radon levels, carbon monoxide fatalities, and unintentional falls among older adults. Most information was found from federal or state governments, and each fact is hyperlinked back to the source material.

EPA Region 2

Throughout 2018, we’re posting highlights of our state fact sheets by EPA region, one region per month. In February, we’re on EPA Region 2, which includes New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico.

  • One of the ways the state fact sheets track the impact of asthma, beyond just prevalence, is the number of emergency department visits with asthma as a primary cause. In 2014, that number was over 168,000 in New York; in Puerto Rico in 2010, 40% of the population with asthma had visited an emergency department for the condition.
  • Between New York and New Jersey, 17,523 children tested with blood lead levels at or above 5 µg/dL in 2015. In New Jersey, 13% of children with a positive blood lead test lived in Newark, despite only 3.8% of the state’s children under age six living in the city.
  • Puerto Rico does not require blood lead data reporting, but over 3% of children under six are estimated to have elevated blood lead levels. As of 2015, 97.2% of the population was served by water systems in violation of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule.
  • Both New York and New Jersey have high amounts of radon: In New York, over half of counties have predicted indoor levels above the EPA action level, while in New Jersey, radon is associated with between 140 and 250 lung cancer deaths a year. This problem is much less pronounced in Puerto Rico, but the northwestern and southeastern portions of the island are still considered to have moderate indoor radon risks.
  • An average of 39 people die annually from carbon monoxide exposure in New York. In New Jersey, carbon monoxide was responsible for 454 emergency department visits in 2015.
  • Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the healthy housing needs in Puerto Rico without discussing the overwhelming impact of Hurricane Maria on the island’s housing and infrastructure. More than a third of homes were destroyed or damaged in the disaster; according to Puerto Rico’s government, the cost totals $37 million. NCHH has joined the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and others in calling for increased disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, including standing up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program.

Other NCHH Resources

NCHH’s state fact sheets will be updated annually with current information. For questions or comments, please email Laura Fudala at lfudala@nchh.org.

 

Sarah Goodwin joined NCHH as a Policy Analyst in June 2017. She previously served NCHH as a policy intern, helping to establish and run the Find It, Fix It, Fund It lead action drive and its work groups. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government from American University.

How the President’s Budget Impacts Healthy Housing

The National Center for Healthy Housing is saddened to see the priorities being presented by the president’s FY19 Federal Budget Request. We know that Congress can do better.

We believe most Americans care about health and that our budget should reflect that, but some of the core federal agency programs that work to keep us all healthier will be underfunded or canceled under the president’s latest proposal. Below are just the programs that NCHH tracks and reports on to advocates and policy makers regularly; many more are also on the chopping block in the president’s budget.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes: The president’s budget is $145 million; our request is $230 million. The $145 million is the same as the 2017 request and lower than the Senate’s FY18 number of $160 million. As our understanding of the impact of exposure and the cost-effectiveness of investing in eliminating lead hazards grows, certainly the funding that works to thwart lead exposure and hazards should be keeping pace.
    • Within this program, the president’s budget removes $5 million from the healthy homes account—from $30 million to $25 million—and redistributes those funds to the lead account. 
  • CDBG and HOME: The president’s budget zeroes out these programs, which provide vital services to low-income and underserved populations across the country. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program alone feeds into myriad programs across the states that effect the health and well-being of Americans of all ages.
Learn more about HUD’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • Eliminates Indoor Air and Radon Programs. We request level funding for these programs. 
    • Indoor Air: Radon, previously funded at $2.91 million.
    • Reduce Risk from Indoor Air, previously funded at $13.733 million.
  • Eliminates Lead and Radon Categorical Grants. We request level funding for these programs. 
    • Radon Categorical Grant: previously funded at $8.051 million.
    • Lead Categorical Grant: previously funded at $14.049 million. 
  • Eliminates the Lead Risk Reduction Program, which was previously funded at $13.275 million; we request level funding for this program
    • Lead paint certifications will continue, through the Chemical Risk Review and Reduction Program, but this program is also getting a minor cut. 
    • The budget states that “Other forms of lead exposure are addressed through other targeted programs, such as the State Revolving Funds, to replace lead pipes.” 1 
  • Decreases the Children and Other Sensitive Populations program, under Information Exchange/Outreach, from $6.548 million to $2.081 million. We request level funding for this program.

Learn more about EPA’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet.
 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Environmental Health 

Learn more about CDC’s valuable programs and services with NCHH’s new Healthy Homes Agency Fact Sheet. NCHH has also created a fact sheet for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is CDC’s parent agency.

Other Impacted Line Items

A Note on the Impact of the President’s Budget on State Funding

A note about how these changes would directly impact state budgets: NCHH tracks 11 grant/funding programs on our state healthy housing fact sheets. Between the eliminations and cuts at HHS, CDC, HUD, EPA, and DOE, this budget cuts or eliminates at least seven of them (eight if you count the expiring CDC lead money as a cut). 

The president and his administration have identified their priorities in this new budget. We'll do all we can to convince Congress of the necessity and cost-effective return on investment of these reduced or eliminated programs and implore Congress to restore programs to present funding levels or increase funding, as well as continue to work to educate the administration about what these programs do to have impact on the long-term health of the entire country. If you'd like to join us in that effort, please join our distribution list

1 One wonders how eliminating this program and the state grants supports Administrator Pruitt’s statement to other federal agencies that “All areas of lead exposure – from lead pipes to contaminated soil – need to be pursued and addressed in a comprehensive and consistent approach” (from the invitation to the principal’s meeting).



Citations:

CDC FY19 Budget Documents 
EPA FY19 Budget Documents 
All of our FY18 request numbers and justifications live here



Darcy Scott,
NCHH Senior Policy Adviser, has been engaged in federal advocacy efforts for over 15 years. She has worked with a number of large-scale organizations, such as the ACLU and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to influence legislators through public engagement. Ms. Scott ran the government affairs department at M+R Strategic Services, leveraging the power of organizations and coalitions to influence the legislative process, and her consulting clients include Habitat for Humanity International and United Way Worldwide. Ms. Scott holds an undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University and a graduate degree from Northwestern University. 

Sarah Goodwin joined NCHH as a Policy Analyst in June 2017. She previously served NCHH as a policy intern, helping to establish and run the Find It, Fix It, Fund It lead action drive and its work groups. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government from American University.

Introducing NCHH's Healthy Housing Fact Sheets: EPA Region 1

Think about your home community. What makes it special? What specific challenges does it face? I’m sure, if given the chance, we could all go on at length about the individuality in the places we live and work. Those of us doing policy work at national organizations spend much of our time focused on the big picture, but the healthy housing needs of each state are unique and varied. We are far more effective as an advocacy community when we remember to take advantage of the perspective and challenges each state brings.

That’s why the National Center for Healthy Housing has created 53 state healthy housing profiles – including the District of Columbia and an overview of the whole U.S. – for use by policy makers and advocates across the country. Each fact sheet offers eight statistics about the healthy housing situation in each state, covering topics including asthma prevalence and financial burden, childhood lead poisoning numbers and age of housing, radon levels, carbon monoxide fatalities, and unintentional falls among older adults. The fact sheets also tell you which of 11 programs at CDCHUD, and EPA are currently funding your state efforts. Most information was found from federal or state governments, and each fact is hyperlinked back to the source material.

EPA Region 1

Throughout 2018, we’re posting highlights of our state fact sheets by EPA region, one region per month. In January, we’re starting off with EPA Region 1: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

  • It’s well known among the healthy housing community that the Northeast typically has older housing stock than other parts of the country, and that is one of the first things that sticks out among these six states. Between 55% and 73% of housing in each state was built before lead paint was outlawed in 1978; 20-30% was built before 1940.
  • In 2015, the combined regional total of blood lead level tests over 5 µg/dL, the CDC action level, was 9,148. Forty percent (40%) of New Hampshire children are estimated to have had elevated blood lead levels at some point in their lives.
  • The region also shares high predicted and tested radon levels. In Connecticut, one in five homes has elevated radon; in Maine and New Hampshire, this number is nearly one in three. An estimated 628 cases of radon-related lung cancer occur in Massachusetts each year.
  • Rhode Island has the highest proportion of residents 85 and older in the U.S. at 15.8%, and nearly one in four Rhode Islanders are over 65. Risk of falling is a particular healthy housing issue for older adults. For example, hospital charges for unintentional falls among older adults totaled over $630 million in Massachusetts in 2010.
  • Another medical expense that has proved costly to the region is emergency asthma treatment. In 2014, Connecticut spent $135 million on acute care where asthma was the primary diagnosis; in 2012, Rhode Island spent $21 million on asthma hospitalizations.
  • The region also boasts some healthy housing milestones. Vermont was the first state to lower its definition of elevated blood lead levels to 5 µg/dL. This legislation was passed in 2008.
  • Maine was one of 14 states and localities that benefited from the additional funding for CDC’s Lead Poisoning Prevention program passed in December 2016.

Other NCHH Resources

NCHH’s state fact sheets will be updated annually with current information. For questions or comments, please email Laura Fudala at lfudala@nchh.org.


 


Sarah Goodwin joined NCHH as a Policy Analyst in June 2017. She previously served NCHH as a policy intern, helping to establish and run the Find It, Fix It, Fund It lead action drive and its work groups. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government from American University.

Are You Decking the Halls with Asthma and Allergy Triggers?

For many, the sight and smell of the Christmas tree is just the thing to put them in the holiday mood – tiny lights peppering a fir, pine, or spruce like hundreds of stars and ornaments that spark decades of wonderful memories. The crisp scent of your tree somehow makes the house smell fresh and clean. As you carefully decorate your home for the holidays, you’re probably spending considerable time making your home a safe, welcoming place for your family and friends to gather. But, at the risk of sounding like a humbug, we want to share some not-so-merry information about the holiday season. Studies have revealed a rise in hospital visits for asthma and other respiratory issues around Christmas, and your holiday decorations – including that beautiful tree that you've just erected in the corner – could be responsible.  As you plan your holiday gatherings, consider ways that you can reduce asthma and allergy triggers in your home.   

Christmas Trees and Wreaths 


Did you know that live trees could increase the risk of wheezing, persistent cough, and allergic sensitization in infants? A study, performed by staff at the SUNY Upstate Medical University, supported by the Children’s Environmental Health Centers of New York, and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, looked into the connection between epidemic peaks in respiratory illness the weeks before and the week after December 25 in children and adults.
 
The study found that Christmas trees, including their needles and bark, from a range of species, carried about 50 types of mold, two-thirds of which could lead to shortness of breath, watery eyes, sinus congestion, feelings of fatigue, and problems sleeping. Some of the molds identified can lead to long-term lung problems and conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Mold spores occur naturally, but the spores thrive in warm conditions, such as your living room. Plus, as the tree decays, the number of airborne mold spores increases dramatically. 

Artificial trees that have been stored improperly can also be a trigger. While in storage, they can accumulate significant amounts of mold spores, dust, and other irritants. 


Other Holiday Triggers  



Other holiday decorations can also trigger asthma attacks and allergies. Here are some of the most common seasonal indoor allergy triggers to avoid:

  • Candles and fragrances – seasonal scents and the warm glow of candles make them a popular choice during the holidays. The fragrances and soot given off by candles can trigger sensitivity in people with allergies or asthma. Besides creating a health hazard, the soot, small particles from paraffin wax, can damage your computers and other electrical appliances.
  • Wood-burning fireplaces – a cozy fire is welcome on a cold winter day; however, a wood-burning fireplace could also be a source for allergy and asthma triggers

Here are some tips to protect your home and family from allergy and asthma triggers during the holidays: 

  • Hose down your tree and let it dry before you bring it inside, whether it’s a fresh-cut variety or you’re getting your artificial tree out of storage. 
  • Remove a live tree soon after Christmas Day. 
  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned every year by a professional. 
  • Instead of a fireplace screen, opt for a fireplace with an insert or a retrofit
  • Avoid using sprays or scented candles with strong fragrances. 
  • Avoid paraffin candles. They’re a petroleum byproduct and release gaseous pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter into the air.
Don’t mistake us for Ebenezer Scrooge! It's just that we love the holidays and want to ensure that everyone in your family can enjoy them to the fullest. And you can with some minor modifications to your already thorough holiday preparations. We wish you a safe and healthy holiday season from our NCHH family to yours!


More Resources



EPA Burn Wise Program for Wood Burning – Tip Sheets
Environmental Health and Safety - Fire Prevention Guidelines for Tree Safety
University of Illinois Extension – Christmas Tree Selection and Care
Cleveland Clinic – Best Ways to Prevent Air Pollution
NCHH – Ensuring Asthma-Safe Homes 
Center for Excellence in Children’s Environmental Health – Healthy Home, Home Hazards: Mold
Preventative Medicine Reports – Health and societal effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products.

Ensuring an Asthma-Safe Home: The Role of Tenants and Landlords


Creating a safe and healthy home for someone with asthma is challenging. The home can play host to many serious asthma triggers, including pests like cockroaches and dust mites, dampness, and ventilation problems that allow accumulation of particulate matter and other types of air pollution. People spend a significant portion of their time inside their home, and about 20% to 30% of asthma cases are linked to home environmental conditions.

While there are certainly steps that individual households can take to reduce these triggers in their home, renters often face unique barriers.

For example, while a household can take steps to remediate a pest problem in their apartment, the infestation may be present in the entire building. Mold and fungi due to leaks or dampness may be caused by structural problems outside of the renter’s control. Tenants may also be restricted in the changes they can make to their unit, like removing carpeting.

Given that over a third of U.S. households rent and one in four live in multiunit buildings, challenges like these warrant particular attention. Moreover, communities of color are both disproportionately burdened by asthma and more likely to live in rental housing.

Preventing and resolving housing issues is most successful when landlord and tenant work together. Multnomah County, Oregon’s Public Health Department, created a resource that highlights these opportunities: What Makes a Healthy Home: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants. The toolkit outlines the seven principles* of a healthy home (dry, clean, safe, ventilated, pest-free, maintained, and contaminant-free), and outlines how both tenants and landlords can play a role in maintaining the healthy status of a unit.

Regarding moisture, for example, the guide explains how landlords are responsible for ensuring all fans are in proper working order and are ventilated outside of the property, regularly inspecting the gutters and making sure all windows are well sealed. Tenants, on the other hand, are in charge of using the fans when showering or cooking, communicating water leaks to landlord immediately, and keeping their unit temperature around 68 degrees to both prevent mold and keep it well ventilated.

While in many case tenants and landlords can work together to solve these problems proactively, if a problem does arise that the landlord is not addressing, tenants have rights. When considering issues of tenants rights, it would be wise to seek legal assistance, especially before taking any action regarding the lease or payment. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows tenants to search for legal aid by state.

Most states have an implied warranty of habitability, which means that landlords must keep their properties “habitable” even if the upkeep isn’t specifically stipulated in the lease. Every state except Arkansas requires rental housing be kept in “livable condition,” which means that it must have safe electrical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation systems, as well as clean and safe hallways and stairs. These requirements also require garbage removal and vermin extermination. Beyond these baseline standards, the definition of “habitable” varies under state and local law. Households living in Section 8 or other federally-sponsored housing are covered under more strict federal standards.

If an issue goes unaddressed, tenants can contact the building manager with a written request about the situation. It is important to document the problem in detail including photos, a description of the issue, and the date and time of the issue. If the building manager is not responsive, however, tenants can request a city or county inspection for violations. Each state has slightly different processes for such complaints, but a call to the local health department is often a good place to start.

Finally, the U.S. Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide additional protections for individuals with disabilities who live in subsidized rental housing. Asthma is specifically classified as a disability under FHA and ADA. Tenants with asthma have “a legal right for reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices or services. They also are entitled to structural changes by the reasonable modification provision when a particular asthma trigger in the housing environment impacts their disability.” FHA and state fair housing laws provide similar protections for market-rate housing.

The process of submitting a formal complaint or request for accommodations can be challenging and new for tenants. Many tenants often don’t feel comfortable making complaints about their housing quality due to uncertainty as to how their landlord will respond or fear of retaliation. This is especially true for tenants living in high-demand rental markets where eviction rates are high. Many tenants also face other barriers to submitting complaints, including language access and work schedules. Local asthma coalitions, tenants rights organizations, and  local public health departments can provide support to tenants through this process. While there is no comprehensive list of asthma coalitions, you can usually find resources by searching “asthma coalition city, state” or “public health department city, state.” Some of these groups even coordinate environmental assessments using the EPA environmental assessment checklist and are able to triage violations directly.

For households living in rental housing, the challenges to creating a healthy home environment can be significant. Ideally, tenants and landlords can work together to prevent asthma triggers and remediate any issues. However, while protections and processes are in place to support this collaboration, in practice resolving these problems can be time-consuming and discouraging for tenants. Understanding their rights as tenants and enlisting the support of local organizations can be critical to a tenant’s success.


_______________

*Note: At the time that What Makes a Healthy Home: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants was published, there were seven accepted principles of healthy housing. An eighth, "thermally-controlled," has since been adopted by the healthy homes community.

A version of this article was published in July 2013 as "How to Create an Asthma Safe Home Part II: Solutions for Tenants and Landlords" on the Propeller Health site. The author has modified portions of the article for publication here.




Justine Marcus is currently pursuing a dual degree, Masters in City Planning and Masters in Public Health, at the University of California Berkeley. Through her graduate studies, Justine is exploring how community infrastructure‎ – from housing, to water, to governance ‎– can be used to address health disparities and build community power. She is currently a graduate student researcher for the UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation, where she is examining the health and material impacts of evictions on households. Justine is a proud Wisconsinite and lifelong public school alumna.  

Disqus Comments

Archive

Archive by Years
Tags
Categories