healthy homes

Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Weatherizing Right

With the subfreezing temperatures here in DC, the cold spots and drafts around my apartment are constant reminders to do the weatherizing projects I put off in the late fall. My procrastination has paid off in one sense – since joining EPA two months ago, I’ve learned a lot about keeping a home healthy while weatherizing or renovating.

This weekend I installed some plastic sheeting or film over a couple of old, single-pane windows in my apartment. It’s a short-term fix which should cut down on heat loss and make our rooms a bit more comfortable. As long as there is still some ventilation or outdoor air exchange elsewhere in my unit, it shouldn’t raise any health concerns.

I’ve also got a tube of caulking that I’m planning on using for the edges of a few windows that I don’t want to use the plastic around. Caulk is pretty easy to use, but proper ventilation is important during installation since some caulks may contain toluene or other potentially harmful chemicals. I’m planning on setting up a fan and opening one of the windows I haven’t weatherized yet in order to tackle this project.

If you’ve been looking to fill a larger crack or hole, you’ve reached for a can of spray foam sealer at your local hardware store. I used a can in my last house because it provides great insulation for cracks and crevices. At the same time, spray foams pose a health hazard if not used with proper personal protection (respirators and gloves) and work site ventilation. Spray polyurethane foams contain diisocyanates, which are potent lung and skin sensitizers (or allergens) and irritants. Click here to link to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s resource page or check out a presentation from EPA’s Green Building experts.

I’m not planning on ripping out any windows or otherwise disturbing the old paint in my apartment, since I don’t own the unit. My building was built around 1930, well before 1978, so if I did attempt larger modifications, it would be very important to avoid spreading lead. Come April, all contractors working in pre-1978 houses will be required by EPA to use lead-safe work practices. Here are three basic steps to lead-safe renovations: contain the work area to capture dust and debris, minimize dust, and clean up thoroughly.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.