by Kevin Kennedy —
If we change what we live with, we will get better.
A couple of strangers carrying small suitcases arrive at Emma’s front door. Emma is a five-year-old with asthma and her doctor recently gave the family a referral to a local company that offers home environmental assessment services. Emma’s parents were not aware of this type of service and hadn’t really known how their home might possibly be associated with Emma’s asthma episodes.
Home is where we live, eat, play, study, visit with friends and family, celebrate holidays, rest. We all understand the obvious — that having a safe home is essential for physical and mental health. But we now have a much greater understanding how homes and indoor environments can interact with human physiology.
The seen and unseen materials our houses are made with, the objects and substances we use in and around them, our routines and habits, and how we maintain our living spaces, all determine what we are exposed to. And what we are exposed to, in small or large doses, infrequently or every day, can impact our health.
Over the last three decades there has been a growing study of the relationship between the built environment and human health. Especially indoor environments, because during the same time period there has been an increase in many chronic health conditions in the US and elsewhere.
Asthma now affects about 10% of the US population. (AFAA) Around 60 million people in the US have some kind of allergy, and 10% report some kind of chemical sensitivity. (AFAA) While true that genetics and inheritance play a role in these health conditions, research suggests that the rise of their prevalence cannot be explained by genetics alone. Short- and long-term exposures to the things in our environment play essential roles in the development of many health conditions. And for most of us, where we spend the most time and are exposed to a myriad of potential contaminants known to be associated with health effects, is our home.
We spend 90% of our time indoors (EPA 2005). If we think more carefully about that, it means 90% of the air we breathe originated from an indoor space. How that indoor space was built, operated, and maintained will directly impact what we continuously inhale. Flooring, floor coverings, furniture, decorations, wall materials and finishes, cleaning products, hobby materials, etc. directly affect what we are exposed to, and have the potential to impact our health.
A “chronic” health condition is one that is persistent or episodic over a period of time, sometimes defined simply as lasting more than three months. Asthma, allergies, anxiety, attention and autoimmune disorders are just a portion of the “A” list. So nearly all of us will experience a chronic symptom or condition in our lifetimes. Mostly not in a hospital or clinic, but where we live and work and sleep. We also work to heal and recover from illness and injury at home. When we are at our most vulnerable, our bodies are working hard to recover or maintain our health, and it is harder still to do so when the indoor environment is poor.
We also know from research in schools that a poor indoor environment is associated with poor academic performance.(EPA 2006) In our work at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, we have worked with districts that have some schools where 25%, or 1 student in 4, has asthma, a chronic respiratory disease where the immune system can react to certain airborne contaminants that “trigger” an attack. If a school building has poor air quality and poor operation and management practices, this is an additional burden for teachers and staff, students with asthma, and their classmates, who are all trying to effectively teach and learn.
Read the full article in the May 2019 digital edition of Healthy indoors Magazine now at: https://hi.healthyindoors.com/i/1123843-hi-may-2019/17