Team Seeks Asthma Hazards in Homes

03/10/2010
By For more information, contact media@uml.edu or 978-934-3224

Research Project Seeks Out Unhealthy Conditions in More Than 100 Residences in Lowell

LOWELL, Mass. ߝ UMass Lowell researchers are hunting for hazardous conditions in hundreds of local homes that could lead to development of asthma or trigger asthma attacks in children.

Funded by nearly $875,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the study targets the growing incidence of asthma in children among Lowell families. The grant is from HUD’s Healthy Homes Demonstration Program to UMass Lowell’s Center for Family, Work and Community and Institute of Housing Sustainability.

So far, the researchers have conducted environmental health assessments in 25 Lowell homes and are seeking 135 more households to enroll over the next year and a half. The process includes an assessment by environmental health workers of the initial risk in a home and then dust samples are evaluated in a lab for dust mites and other microscopic creatures that can cause asthma and trigger attacks. In addition, potential children’s safety risks within the home are evaluated. From there, the UMass Lowell team develops a prevention plan with the family in the household to remove any harmful substances, which is then followed by an educational program about how to prevent future problems.

“All our data indicates that environmental conditions within the home are major triggers of asthma, which can have a devastating impact on the life of a child,” said David Turcotte, research professor and director of UMass Lowell Healthy Homes Program. “We’re just really excited to have the opportunity to address this problem head-on and to make a real difference in the everyday lives of at least 160 families.”

As part of the intervention plan, the program can provide participating families with some of the equipment they will need to implement it.

“We might get the family a free HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner,” said Turcotte, “or help them with removal of some rugs in their home, or tune up their stove, or get them an exhaust fan or plastic covers for the beds; whatever is apt to reduce the level of dust mites and other hazards, which can cause and exacerbate asthma in children. At the same time, we’re doing our best to educate them about the conditions most associated with the disease, such as smoking.”

Nine months after the plan is put in place, the researchers will conduct a follow-up assessment, such as monitoring how many days of school a child has missed or how many times they have visited the emergency room because of asthma attacks. That data will be compared to information prior to the changes to gauge the plan’s effectiveness.

The HUD funding for the project came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and was announced by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas in March 2009.

“This major award will help our researchers and their partners empower local residents to prevent and respond to hazardous living conditions,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. “Children and their families should be safe from environmental harm in their homes. We are proud to be part of this initiative to assure their safety.”

“These federal funds will help UMass Lowell’s Healthy Homes program reach more than 100 additional households in Lowell and eliminate conditions that give rise to asthma and other dangerous respiratory conditions among children,” said Tsongas.  “This award is a testament to the excellent faculty leading this project at the university.”

The research team from the center is led by Turcotte, Prof. Susan Woskie of UMass Lowell’s Department of Work Environment and Prof. Stephanie Chalupka, formerly of UMass Lowell and now with Worcester State College. Community partners include the Coalition for a Better Acre, Community Teamwork Inc., Lowell Community Health Center, Lowell Housing Authority and the Merrimack Valley Housing Partnership.

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 13,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education. www.uml.edu.