Healthy Housing Connections Summer 2009

The summer season kicked off to a roaring start with the National Healthy Housing Policy Summit and the Surgeon General's Call to Action on Healthy Homes. I had the privilege of spending several weeks with California advocates in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento, and Oakland, learning about their healthy housing efforts and planning for a comprehensive statewide healthy housing agenda. The local meetings culminated with a statewide symposium, "Healthy Housing for California."

During the trip, I was able to see first-hand the conditions in which many families are living; a serious problem that has obviously been exacerbated by our current economic crisis. Indeed, people are paying rent to live in garages, sheds, and even under tarps. Advocates have coined the term "predatory habitability" - a situation where unscrupulous landlords target recent immigrants, refugees, and migrants to rent substandard housing.  

This stark reality of living conditions for U.S. families extends beyond California. In September, NCHH will release data for 45 metropolitan areas, which documents how many families live without working plumbing or heat, or sleep nightly in rooms infested with mice or rats.

With the federal stimulus dollars now hitting the streets, our challenge is to integrate a variety of categorical funding streams in a way that creates a whole which is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Please keep an eye on and follow our Twitter feed as we release the findings from the Summit and begin a collaborative process to craft an ambitious, yet achievable, National Healthy Housing Action Plan.

In This Issue:

Main Feature: National Healthy Housing Policy Summit
3rd WHO International Conference on Children's Health and the Environment
Ask NCHH: What to Do If You Suspect Your Home Has Chinese Drywall
National Healthy Homes Training Center Announces Healthy Homes for Community Health Workers Course
National Healthy Homes Training Calendar
Findings from First Health Outcome Evaluation of Implementing Enterprise Green Communities Criteria
Surgeon General's Call to Action
New Book: Housing and Health in Europe, the WHO LARES Project
CDC launches Environmental Public Health Tracking Network
EPA Rolls-out Indoor airPlus Program
Be sure to follow NCHH on Twitter

Main Feature

National Healthy Housing Policy Summit

On May 7th, NCHH and the Alliance for Healthy Homes convened the leaders of 40 prominent nonprofits and experts in housing, public health, green building, and tenant rights to begin developing and implementing the first National Action Plan for Healthy Housing.  

Experts from Boston to Seattle reported on cutting-edge programs that are successfully taking a "whole-house" approach to controlling and preventing the leading causes of disease and injury in the home. For example, participants heard from the Greensboro Housing Coalition about how they persuaded city council to support a comprehensive approach to substandard housing by taking them on an eye-opening tour of substandard conditions in their own neighborhoods.

Many participating organizations also committed in writing to take specific action steps to advance healthy housing. From these pledges and the participants' input during the summit, NCHH and its partners have started drafting a National Healthy Housing Action Plan. We have also begun converting this "G-40" of key housing and health leaders into a working coalition that will hit the halls of Congress and implement the Plan's other elements.

Funding support was generously provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Home Depot Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America.

To learn more about the Policy Summit, please click here.


3rd WHO International Conference on Children's Health and the Environment

In June, over 600 participants from 60 countries and organizations met in Busan, Republic of Korea for the 3rd WHO International Conference on Children's Health and the Environment. The mission of the conference was to draw renewed and urgent attention to children's environmental health (CEH) issues, reposition CEH in the global public health agenda, and to improve and promote policies and actions for improving children's health at all levels.

NCHH Executive Director, Rebecca Morley, attended the conference and led a session titled Green Building - Opportunities to Improve Health Outcomes for Low-Income Families. She reported on NCHH's Minnesota Green and DC Green projects, and provided commentary on NCHH's report How Healthy Are National Green Building Programs?

On the last day, the Conference participants drafted a Pledge for Action on Children's Health and the Environment. In the Pledge, participants agreed to:

  • Advocate for the recognition, assessment, and consideration of hazardous environmental influences on children's health and development.
  • Train, educate, and inform children, parents, and key stakeholders at all levels (including healthcare workers, environment professionals, non-governmental organizations, industry, and policy-makers) about children's health and the environment.
  • Advance the development and use of CEH indicators.

To learn more about the conference and to read the full pledge, please click here.


What to do if you suspect your home has Chinese drywall

Question: I recently had my home remodeled and I am afraid the contractor may have used Chinese drywall. What are the problems associated with Chinese drywall and how can I tell I have it in my home?

Answer: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that Chinese drywall can have deleterious affects on your health and the health of your home. If you are suffering from irritated and itchy eyes and skin, difficulty in breathing, persistent cough, bloody noses, runny noses, recurrent headaches, sinus infection, and asthma attacks, please consult your physician as soon as possible.

Additionally, if you experience any of the electrical or fire safety concerns described as common to the reports of exposure to problem drywall, please consult your local gas or electric supplier and a licensed electrician or building inspector as soon as possible. The most commonly reported problems are blackened and corroded metal in homes. Particularly, consumers have reported premature failures of central air conditioning evaporator coils located indoors as part of the central air conditioning unit air handler; and intermittent operation or failure of appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers, and electronic devices such as televisions and video game systems.

To learn more about this problem, please click here.


National Healthy Homes Training Center announces Healthy Homes for Community Health Workers course

Community health workers (CHWs) are distinct from other health professionals because they live in the community in which they work, and are selected by and accountable to neighborhood members. Research shows that community health workers can increase access to healthcare services, increase early detection of disease, facilitate continuity of care for patients, and act as effective advocates for patients in the healthcare system. In the field of healthy housing, the provision of intensive home intervention services by community health workers was effective in reducing the use of emergency rooms and improving the quality of life for low-income children with asthma.*

To "scale up" the capacity of CHWs to deliver healthy homes services, NCHH has created a course for Community Health Workers (CHWs). The Healthy Homes for Community Health Workers course is targeted to individuals who work as health advocates in their communities. The course trains CHWs to provide one-on-one and large group education on healthy homes, provide general advice about specific healthy homes problems, and to make recommendations regarding solutions to common healthy homes problems.

Please click here to learn more about the CHW course and to see a list of upcoming course offerings.

*Krieger JW, Takaro TK, Song L, and Weaver M (2005). The Seattle-King County Healthy Homes Project: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of a Community Health Worker Intervention to Decrease Exposure to Indoor Asthma Triggers, American Journal of Public Health; 95(4):652-659.

National Healthy Homes Training Calendar

Looking for training related to healthy homes? NCHH's online training calendar serves as a national clearinghouse for healthy homes related trainings. Please click here to visit the training calendar.

If you are a training provider and would like to register to post courses to the training calendar, please contact Chris Bloom, at or 443.539.4154.


Findings from First Health Outcome Evaluation of Implementing Enterprise Green Communities Criteria

NCHH recently completed the nation's first health outcome evaluation of the Enterprise Green Communities criteria for low-income housing rehabilitation in a 60-unit affordable housing development in southwest Minnesota. The green retrofit included:

  • Greater fresh air supply to each unit
  • Radon testing and mitigation
  • Installation of quiet, ENERGY STAR fans and new ENERGY STAR windows
  • Low-VOC building materials and paints
  • Integrated pest management
  • Moisture management (such as improved grading and better roofing)

NCHH also educated residents about the features of their new healthy homes training, and smoking was banned in common areas. NCHH used an adaptation of CDC's National Health Interview Survey to assess resident health, and conducted ventilation measurements and environmental testing.

NCHH found that in adults there were large statistically significant improvements in general health, chronic bronchitis, hay fever, sinusitis, and asthma (p<0.05). Hypertension in adults also improved marginally (p=0.083). Children's general health, respiratory allergies, ear infections, comfort, safety, and ease of housecleaning all improved greatly, but the changes were not statistically significant due to small sample size. Radon mitigation was effective (<2 pCi/L) and VOCs in indoor air were low.

The project was carried out with funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota, the U.S. EPA, and Enterprise Community Partners. NCHH convened a multidisciplinary team to carry out the study, including the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, the University of Minnesota's Center for Sustainable Building Research, Minnesota Green Communities, and the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. The results show that using green principles in low-income housing rehabilitation, through integrated design, produces significant health improvements for residents. Detailed results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Please click here to learn more about this project.


Surgeon General's Call to Action

On June 9, 2009, the Surgeon General's Office released a Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes. The Call to Action looks at the ways housing can affect health; its release bolsters the national dialogue about the importance of healthy homes.

During the event, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), also announced the release of HUD's Healthy Homes Strategic Plan. HUD's plan demonstrates why healthy homes is a national priority, describes what steps should be taken to achieve healthier housing, and highlights the key public and private partners for implementation. "We are pleased that we are able to release our strategic plan to the nation today," Sims said. "We must continue to work together across communities and the nation to ensure our homes are sited, designed, built, renovated, and maintained in ways that support the health of residents."

Additionally, Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health within the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, stated, "Ensuring that the nation's homes are safe, healthy, affordable, accessible, and environmentally friendly, will have a direct, immediate, and measurable effect on the health of the nation."

Steps outlined in the Call to Action include:

  • Check gas appliances, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces yearly, and change furnace and air conditioning filters regularly.
  • Keep children safe from drowning, lead poisoning, suffocation and strangulation, and other hazards.
  • Improve air quality in their homes by installing radon and carbon monoxide detectors, eliminating smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and controlling allergens that contribute to asthma and mold growth.
  • Improve water quality by learning to protect and maintain private water wells.

To learn more about the Call to Action, click here.

New Book: Housing and Health in Europe, the WHO LARES Project
In this new book, David Ormandy and expert contributors explain the nature and development of the World Health Organization's cross-disciplinary study of housing across Europe. The in-depth analysis provides new evidence of links between the health of inhabitants and their housing conditions, with focus on critical topics such as indoor air pollution, the effect of cold homes and dampness, the effect of noise, and injuries.

With practical examples of survey tools, the attention given to methodological approaches makes this text an important resource for policy professionals, as well as housing, planning, and public health practitioners.

Please click here to learn more and to purchase a copy of the book.

CDC launches Environmental Public Health Tracking Network
CDC recently announced the launch of its new Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, a dynamic Web-based tool that tracks and reports environmental hazards and the health problems that may be related to them. Childhood lead poisoning and asthma are among the health conditions CDC's Tracking Network covers, while air and water quality are among the environmental indicators. Please click here to visit the Tracking Network today.

EPA Rolls-out Indoor airPlus Program
EPA created Indoor airPLUS to help builders meet the growing consumer preference for homes with improved indoor air quality. EPA developed additional construction specifications to help improve indoor air quality in new homes.

Construction specifications include the careful selection and installation of moisture control systems; heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems; combustion-venting systems; radon resistant construction; and low-emitting building materials. Ask about the Indoor airPLUS qualification for your next new home. Click here to Read EPA's Indoor airPLUS Better Environments Inside and Out.

Be sure to follow NCHH on Twitter!

About NCHH

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation based in Columbia, Maryland, dedicated to creating healthier homes for children through practical and proven steps. NCHH conducts research on a broad array of housing-related health issues, including mold, radon, asthma triggers, and the promotion of green and healthy building. Additionally, NCHH engages in policy and training activities to promote decent, safe, and affordable housing in the United States.

NCHH anchors the National Healthy Homes Training Center, which is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since its inception, over 3,000 health and housing practitioners have attended the Training Center. If you are interested in learning more about NCHH or supporting our work or have ideas or comments on our newsletter, please contact Phillip Dodge, Marketing & Development Officer at (443) 539-4168 or

NCHH Supporters (listed alphabetically)
The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation
The Derald H. Ruttenberg Foundation

Enterprise Community Partners
The Home Depot Foundation
ICF International

The Kresge Foundation
NeighborWorks America
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America
TD BankNorth
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The Wachovia Foundation