Grant Will Buy Air Filtration Units for Seniors in Lowell

UMass Lowell Research Prof. of Economics David Turcotte Image by Adrien Bisson
Research Prof. David Turcotte received a $1 million grant to help low-income seniors with asthma.

By Katharine Webster

Research Prof. David Turcotte has been awarded a Healthy Homes grant for nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to do research on asthma among low-income seniors in Lowell.

Turcotte, a professor of economics, hopes to learn whether installing high-quality, portable air filtration units in apartments with gas stoves will improve the health of seniors with asthma. Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide and tiny particles, both of which are known to trigger asthma. Electric stoves do not, but it’s not physically or economically possible to convert from gas to electric stoves in many apartment buildings, Turcotte says.

The grant is an extension of Turcotte’s previous research into reducing the incidence of severe asthma among low-income seniors and families living in public and federally subsidized rental housing in the city. That research looked at the effectiveness of education about asthma triggers as well as environmental interventions, including HEPA-filter vacuum cleaners and greener cleaning products.

The new research will look at whether the air filtration units alone reduce contaminants and improve health, resulting in fewer asthma-related doctor visits and hospital stays. Then the researchers will also add the interventions that have proven effective in the past – asthma education and the HEPA-filter vacuum cleaners and green cleaning products – to see if the combination improves health outcomes significantly more.

“Asthma and other respiratory diseases disproportionately affect minority and low-income residents, particularly among vulnerable populations such as older adults and children,” Turcotte says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 7 percent of the U.S. population age 65 and older has asthma, and people in that age group are the most likely to die as a result of the disease.

“This study will fill a major knowledge gap,” Turcotte says. “We will be measuring particulates and nitrogen dioxide concentrations in homes that cook with gas stoves as well as reductions in both pollutants when using HEPA/activated charcoal air purifiers – and whether that reduction has a positive effect on the residents’ health.”

Turcotte will be working on the grant with Susan Woskie, a professor emerita of public health, the Lowell Community Health Center, the Lowell Housing Authority and several public and private residences for low-income seniors.