Healthy Housing Connections Fall 2009

Healthy homes enjoyed a successful day on Wednesday! A committee of the International Code Council (ICC) considered a series of proposals from NCHH and the Alliance for Healthy Homes to improve the 2012 version of the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). The IPMC applies to all structures, but as a practical matter is the nation's model housing code, governing conditions that affect occupants in and around the structure. Several states and nearly 600 localities across the country have adopted the IPMC for housing.

The committee's decisions go for public comment this spring and a final vote by code officials in Charlotte, NC, from October 28 to November 1, 2010.

The committee accepted three proposals:

  • Require use of the lead-safe work practices to repair deteriorated paint on structures built before 1978. The LSWPs are those in EPA's Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule. In the rule, "paint" is presumed to be lead-based paint.
  • Require carbon monoxide alarms in dwelling units with combustion sources or an attached garage. There are exemptions for homes with ventilated or open attached garages.
  • Prohibit the use of portable unvented fuel-burning space heaters to provide comfort heating.

Another committee accepted our proposal to adopt California's standards for formaldehyde from composite wood products.

ICC committees seriously considered other proposals but did not approve them; however, NCHH and AFHH anticipate submitting public comments to address committee concerns and pursue approval by the ICC code officials next year. These proposals include:

  • Requiring radon-resistant new construction in high-risk areas (counties designated as Zone 1 and Zone 2).
  • Requiring removal, replacement, or remediation of interior porous or water-permeable surfaces with visible mold.
  • Defining "sanitary" so code inspectors can more effectively apply the term that is used throughout the IPMC and modifying the definition of "infestation."
  • Requiring use of licensed pest management professionals when a code official orders pest control.
  • Establish clear provisions in the IPMC for standards to address specific health issues.

In a related safety issue, the committee responsible for the International Residential Code affirmed the ICC membership's decision to require sprinklers in one- and two-family housing.

As with any success, this work took a team. Special thanks to our colleagues Marc Nard; Wayne Jewell of Southfield, MI; Warren Friedman of HUD; Angela Mickalide of the Home Safety Council; Howard Asch of Michigan; Tom Mahar of New York; Doreen Cantor Pastor and Phil Jalbert of EPA; Tom Julia; Madeleine Shea and Meghan Butasek of Baltimore; Ruth Ann Norton and Wes Stewart of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning; Gloria Linnertz of Cancer Survivors Against Radon; Peter Hendrick, Julie Somis, and Dave Kapturowski of the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists; and Mike Pyles of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

In This Issue:

Majority of U.S. Families Live in a Home with at Least One Major Health Risk
NCHH Unveils the State of Healthy Housing Report
Update on the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition
NCHH Releases Informational Resources for Affordable Housing Professionals
Ask NCHH: Radon
Federal Healthy Homes Legislation Reintroduced
EPA to Strengthen RRP Rule and Lead Paint and Dust Standards

Main Feature

Majority of U.S. Families Live in a Home with at Least One Major Health Risk

NCHH recently surveyed adults to gauge their level of awareness of the most common health and safety hazards found in many homes. Although most people realize serious health problems may result from the way their homes are built and maintained, the results reveal that they have not taken action to create a healthy and safe home environment for their loved ones.

"With nearly six million families in the U.S. living in substandard housing, it's clear current housing regulations fail to ensure that safe and healthy housing is accessible to families of all income levels," said Rebecca Morley, National Center for Healthy Housing executive director. "We also need stronger regulations and greater investment from the private sector to ensure that healthy housing is accessible to all."

While the majority of survey respondents realize that the way a home is built and maintained can lead to serious health problems, including asthma or allergies (79%), lead poisoning (73%), injuries (65%) and cancer (47%), many have not taken the often simple and inexpensive steps to eliminate the hazard:

  • Less than half (41%) have repaired water damage or plumbing leaks.
  • Just 1 in 3 (34%) have installed a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Less than 1 in 5 (18%) have installed child safety devices such as stair gates, cabinet locks, or window guards, if children live in or frequent the home.
  • Just 1 in 10 (10%) have tested for radon or for lead-based paint (for homes built before 1978).
  • Just 2 in 5 (38%) purchase non-toxic or "green" cleaning supplies.
  • Less than two-thirds (63%) have installed energy-efficient lighting.

Click here to view the full results of the survey.

NCHH Unveils the State of Healthy Housing Report

The State of Healthy Housing is a comprehensive study of housing conditions in 45 metropolitan areas that reveals a critical need to improve housing conditions throughout the country. Funding for the web-based study was provided by a grant from The California Endowment.

NCHH created the first-ever national healthy housing indicator by identifying 20 key housing characteristics that relate to occupant health from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Housing Survey. The areas of concern include inadequate kitchen and bath facilities ventilation and moisture problems, pests, poorly maintained building elements, and deficient electrical, heating, or plumbing systems. The most common problems identified include water leaks, roofing problems, damaged interior walls, and signs of mice.

The report quantifies these problems in each metropolitan area's rental housing, owner-occupied housing, central city housing, and homes outside the central city. The metropolitan areas of Charlotte, NC, Anaheim-Santa Ana, CA, and Atlanta, GA, rank highest for having the healthiest housing. At the bottom of the list-having the least healthy housing-are the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York City.

Nationally, NCHH researchers found that housing conditions are not significantly better than a decade ago and may in fact be worse as a result of the current economic crisis and housing foreclosure crisis. The report underscores the need for greater investment in healthy and safe housing. Read on to find out about the efforts of the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition NCHH has formed to address directly the systemic policy challenges that preclude families from accessing better quality housing.

Click here to view the full report.


Action by the New National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition

As we hoped, the National Healthy Housing Policy Summit, which took place early May, generated several promising follow-up activities that are gaining momentum:

  • National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition Provisional Steering Committee Formed: A provisional 15-member Steering Committee of the new National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition has formed, comprised of housing, health, environmental, safety, children, and other nonprofit groups and chaired by NCHH. It will remain in place until the first meeting of the full coalition in Spring 2010, which will vote on a one-year term Steering Committee.
  • Coalition Website Created: All Coalition materials, including summit proceedings and recommendations, Steering Committee meeting minutes, Coalition actions and positions, and other resources, are now centralized at a new website.
  • National Action Plan Distilled Into Three Sets of Priorities with Work Groups Pursuing Each: The May summit produced 55 initial recommendations we could collectively pursue to make homes safer and healthier. In its first two meetings in late July and mid-September, the Steering Committee examined the most promising ideas in depth. It then whittled them down into a short, clear, and realistic agenda of high-priority federal and national issues that would promote safe and healthy housing - particularly for low-income families and other vulnerable populations- via collaboration, legislation, and regulatory/administrative policies.

The work groups have since begun taking action to implement several of these priorities:

  • Supporting Increase for EPA State Lead Program: In the President's budget for FY10, the EPA requested an extra $1 million for its state lead grant program. The House denied it; however, the Senate granted it after the Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition appealed to conferees to include the $1 million in the conference bill.
  • Supporting Senator Jack Reed's Two Healthy Housing Bills to Be Circulated: We have begun outreach to several Senate offices and have drafted a sign-on letter to go to key legislators to support Senator Jack Reed's Healthy Housing Council Bill (S. 1658) and Safe and Healthy Housing Act. Contact Rebecca Morley if you wish to sign on to the letter supporting either/both.
  • First Full Coalition Meeting: Thanks to a new grant from the Kresge Foundation, NCHH will hold the first full Coalition meeting this spring. Join the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition and be part of this historic event!


NCHH Releases Healthy Homes Fact Sheets, Video, Webinar, and Other Tools for Affordable Housing Professionals:

Affordable housing organizations such as Enterprise Community Partners, NeighborWorks America, and the Local Initiative Support Corporation offer critical support to local housing organizations. As these national intermediaries pursue a major shift in affordable housing policy to green and sustainable practices, NCHH is partnering with them to provide practical information on healthy homes upgrades that can be cost-effectively integrated into their programs. NCHH is developing and delivering training and technical assistance to demystify healthy homes building practices.

NCHH has developed five fact sheets to demystify green building practices and to provide information about the latest innovations in green building products and techniques:

Enterprise Community Partners and NCHH hosted a webinar on the smoke-free housing fact sheet. Case studies and videos on affordable housing developments that have gone green and healthy are also being developed and will be available on NCHH's website by the end of November.


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

Question: What is radon? How do I know if my home has a radon problem and how can I remediate it?

Answer: Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas and is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The EPA estimates that 1 in 15 homes have elevated radon levels and currently recommends taking action in your home if radon levels are 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or above. However, several experts think the action level should be lower. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued new radon guidance which indicates that a home should be treated if levels reach 2.7 picocuries per liter to protect against lung cancer. The WHO says that radon is a worldwide threat and that most lung cancers from radon come from exposures inside the home.

Some states offer radon test kits. You can find contact information for your state by visiting EPA's radon website. The National Safety Council has an online coupon that allows you to purchase test kits for $15 each.

Here are the steps that EPA recommends you follow to test your home:

  1. Take a short-term test (or take two short-term tests at the same time). If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher, take a follow-up test (Step 2).
  2. Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test. For a better understanding of year-round average radon level, take a long-term test. If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test. The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.
  3. If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test (or the two simultaneous tests) is 4 pCi/L or higher.

Mitigation costs depend on the design of your house but generally range between $800 and $2500.

Read/download the WHO Radon Handbook.

Also visit the EPA Radon website.


Federal Healthy Homes Legislation Reintroduced

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D. RI) recently introduced the Healthy Housing Council Bill (S. 1658). It would create an Interagency Council on Healthy Housing to encourage healthy housing through capacity building, technical assistance, public policy, and education; and to facilitate coordination and collaboration between federal agencies. The Bill also authorizes $750,000 for each of the next five years for the Council to review, monitor, and evaluate existing housing, health, energy, and environmental programs. A companion bill, HR 3793, was introduced by Congressman Robert Brady (D. PA).

EPA to Strengthen RRP Rule and Lead Paint and Dust Standards

In August, NCHH, the Alliance for Healthy Homes, and the Sierra Club petitioned the U.S. EPA to take steps to protect children from the dangers of lead-based paint and leaded dust more adequately. In response to our petition, on October 22, 2009, EPA issued a proposed rule to expand the coverage of the 2008 Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule. The new rule proposes to eliminate a provision that exempted some housing from the rule's requirement that contractors be trained and certified and use lead-safe work practices when renovating, repairing, or painting a pre-1978 home. EPA also announced that it will propose to modify the regulatory hazard standard for lead in dust so that it is based on the most recent science. The agency also will work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to propose a modification of the regulatory definition of lead-based paint.

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