Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Breathing a Little Easier

Asthma is a growing public health concern in North America: it is the leading cause of chronic illness among children and the rates for children are steadily increasing.  It is also an illness which disproportionately effects people in low socio-economic statuses and its symptoms are exacerbated by compromised indoor and outdoor air quality. 

One of the ways this public health problem is being addressed in Seattle is through innovations in the built environment.  In the High Point neighborhood in West Seattle, 35 Breath Easy homes targeted for low-income renters are helping to mitigate the impact of asthma and hoping to reduce asthma attacks by improving indoor air quality.  

Breath Easy Homes include:
  • Airtight construction, insulated windows and an insulated foundation, minimizing dust, pollen and other contaminants that can enter from outside.
  • Positive ventilation to remove stale air and filter incoming fresh air.
  • Hydronic, instead of forced-air heating, reducing airborne particles and organisms.
  • Hard flooring surfaces such as linoleum, replacing carpet that can trap dust and allergens.
  • Window blinds, instead of curtains, to reduce trapped dust.
  • Low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) emitting paints and cabinetry materials, reducing potentially harmful chemicals in the air.
  • A HEPA filter vacuum, efficiently removing dust and other toxins and debris.
  • Landscaping designed to reduce seasonal pollens.

At High Point, residents were chosen to live in the Breathe Easy homes based on the severity of asthma and have agreed to participate in a study that will assess what kind of impact living in the homes has on their illness.  The study is being conducted by King County Health Department and the University of Washington’s Dept. of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Community Medicine. 

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