When Houses Harm Health

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
May 1, 2017

Residents at a Minneapolis housing complex recently complained of cockroaches crawling out of their toasters and scaling their walls.

Their story is more than disgusting — these creepy crawlers carry bacteria on their feet, making them a serious health hazard.[1]

From cockroach infestations to indoor mold growth, deplorable living conditions can pose a serious threat to public health.

Houses can turn harmful in the blink of an eye. Mold, for instance, can spring to life within 24 hours and quickly colonize. All it needs to grow is dim lighting and dampness.[2]

Humans react to this fungus in many ways. Some may find themselves with stuffy nose while others may develop debilitating chronic asthma.[3] 

A recent study in the American Journal of Public Health tells the story of 6-year-old patient who developed severe asthma after moving to a mold-infested apartment building. The young boy had no previous history of the condition or previous symptoms.[4]

Asthma can carry its own serious costs. To take one example, children with asthma miss school more frequently than children without the condition. It’s estimated that asthma causes 10.5 million missed school days each year.

Add it all up, and asthma costs the United States around $56 billion each year in direct health costs, student absenteeism, and missed work.[5]

Poor air quality can also transform a house into a disease incubator. Indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.[6] Absent proper ventilation, airborne illnesses from common colds to tuberculosis can spread more quickly.[7]

Even something as simple as an old stove can be hazardous to one’s health, whether due to leaking gas or dangerous coal or biomass fumes. In fact, indoor air pollution from stoves has already caused the deaths of nearly 2 million people in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization.[8]

Faucets that spit out contaminated drinking water are yet another household health danger, as the residents of Flint, Michigan know all too well. Last year, the city’s water was found to contain traces of lead, E.coli, total coliform bacteria and other harmful pollutants.[9] As many as 8,000 children may have been exposed, resulting in social costs of nearly $400 million, according to one estimate.[10]

Fortunately, avoiding these and other household hazards is relatively easy. Painting your walls with mold-resistant paint is a good place to start.[11] As for air quality, be sure to replace the air filters in your furnace and air conditioners regularly – and always use the fan over your stove when using the appliance.[12]

With a little vigilance, you can ensure that the place you call home is never a threat to your health.

[1] http://www.kare11.com/news/investigations/minneapolis-housing-complex-infested-with-cockroaches/333343190

[2] http://www.superrestoration.com/how-fast-can-mold-grow-and-become-a-problem/

[3] http://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447157/

[5] http://www.aafa.org/page/cost-of-asthma-on-society.aspx

[6] http://www.greenhomeguide.com/know-how/article/improving-your-homes-indoor-air-quality-from-basic-to-bigger-and-better-steps

[7] http://www.who.int/hia/housing/en/

[8] http://www.who.int/hia/housing/en/

[9] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisisl

[10] http://time.com/4441471/flint-water-lead-poisoning-costs/

[11] https://www.rustoleum.com/product-catalog/consumer-brands/zinsser/cleaners-and-mold-and-mildew-proof-paints/perma-white-mold-and-mildew-proof-interior-paint

[12] http://www.greenhomeguide.com/know-how/article/improving-your-homes-indoor-air-quality-from-basic-to-bigger-and-better-steps

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