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Daily News Archive
From October 27, 2006                                                                                                        

Seattle Homes Built for People with Asthma
(Beyond Pesticides, October 27, 2006) In Seattle, Washington, 35 families recently moved into what is being called a one-of-a-kind public-housing project. Breathe Easy Homes are designed for people with asthma using friendly building and housing products and integrated pest management (IPM).

Responding to lobbying efforts by community activists for asthma-free homes, Seattle City officials, encouraged by Dr. Jim Kreiger, M.D., Chief of Epidemology, Planning and Evaluation for the Seattle King County Public Health Department, made a decision to demolish and rebuild a public-housing complex. The result is what is now known as Breathe Easy Homes.

According to Dr. Kreiger, who views himself as a social doctor working to address disparities between health and health care, asthma affects the poor far more often than it affects the rich. Asthma is often triggered by mold, mildew, poor ventilation, dander from pets and pesticides, all of which are in abundance in substandard housing. In addition to being an underlying cause of asthma, pesticides can also trigger asthma attacks in those who already suffer from the disease (see Beyond Pesticides’ Asthma, Children and Pesticides: What you should know to protect your family).

In an effort to reduce asthma triggers, Dr. Kreiger listed features to incorporate into the Breathe Easy homes, including a moisture-proof foundation to keep the mold out, and cleaner, low-emission paints that don't emit harmful fumes. The cabinets in the kitchen are made from particle-board but the products don't contain formaldehyde, another potential asthma trigger. There's a high-quality ventilation system, hard floors instead of carpet and special exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

Based on the goals of improving health and changing lives, no detail was left to chance in the project. The homes are equipped with washing machines so residents can wash bedding more easily. IPM tools were provided to the residents such as mattress covers to prevent dust mites, and special cleaning supplies and a high-efficiency vacuum. Community health workers, who play a key role in the program, teach the residents on asthma management strategies, IPM strategies and how to use the supplies.

Public health officials consider Dr. Kreiger’s approach as a bit of a throwback to the late 19th century, when public-health officials worked to improve living conditions in New York City tenements. In the past half-century, public health has moved away from many social issues. However, as asthma rates and other illnesses such as learning disabilities and cancer continue to rise, city officials are beginning to respond with programs that rely on safe pest management approaches such as IPM.