Survey: Homeowners Not Adequately Protecting Themselves From Common Environmental Health Hazards

A national survey released on June 21 reveals that homeowners and renters are aware of common environmental threats such as lead, mold, radon and pest-related diseases, but they do not take simple actions to protect themselves and their families.

Orkin Inc., a pest control company, designed the survey with the assistance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), a national scientific organization focused on protecting children from environmental hazards in their homes while preserving affordable housing. The survey polled respondents on health issues in and around the home and whether or not people were routinely taking steps to protect themselves.

According to the survey, 68 percent of respondents are concerned that environmental home hazards will negatively affect their health, yet most (70 percent) have never tested or inspected their homes for lead, radon, carbon monoxide or mold.

According to Dr. Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez, behavioral scientist for the CDC's National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases, "People are aware that pests can spread germs that cause disease, but in the rush of everyday life we can still forget to take actions to protect ourselves, like wearing repellent while working and playing in our own backyard. There is a gap between awareness and action, and we want to narrow that gap by sharing simple steps for prevention in and around the home."

The CDC, NCHH and Orkin have launched a public awareness campaign to educate people on how to protect themselves against hidden home threats. More than half of survey respondents (57 percent) do not seek information about how to mitigate home health risks, yet there are countless ways people can reduce common threats.

"Some of the deadliest hazards in the home environment cannot be seen or smelled," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of NCHH. "Everyone needs to be aware of these hidden home threats and take steps to reduce risks."

For example, radon -- a naturally occurring gas in all parts of the country, and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers -- can be detected through a $10 test kit available at most hardware stores. If radon is detected, a professional can be hired to mitigate gas exposure to residents in the house.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that sends up to 40,000 people to the emergency room and kills 500 in the United States each year. Yet, according to the survey, 50 percent of homeowners and renters did not have a carbon monoxide alarm in their homes. In addition to installing alarms near sleeping areas, ensuring appliances are correctly installed and properly functioning, as well as inspecting and cleaning heating systems and chimneys, can lessen the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Most survey respondents (82 percent) were aware that exposure to lead-based paint can cause developmental delays in children, but the majority had not tested homes for the presence of lead dust. To lessen risk, people should wash children's hands and toys frequently and hire a professional to inspect homes built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Homeowners and renters also should be aware that painting or renovating an older home can place them at higher risk for exposure.

Mold can cause allergic reactions such as watery eyes and trouble breathing, as well as trigger asthma attacks. While 50 percent of respondents claimed to have allergies, many may not know prevention tips like using water alarms; using dehumidifiers to reduce dampness in homes; removing and repairing water-damaged materials such as carpets, wallboard, and ceilings; and installing exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens.

For more information, visit the National Center for Healthy Housing at http://www.nchh.org/html/healthy_housing_resources.htm or CDC at http://www.cdc.gov.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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