Capital News Service reporters Quanny Carr and Mark Boyle met with Ezinne Chinemere, senior health educator at Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI), to discuss her visits to homes of families trying to cope with asthma.
What is the Green & Healthy Homes initiative?
Chinemere: We’re a nonprofit here in Baltimore, located in Canton. We focus on healthy housing, weatherization, lead poisoning, educating families in regards to how to reduce triggers for asthma and to reduce lead and lead poisoning in their homes and give families opportunities to know that they do deserve to live in a healthy house, no matter where they live in the city.
What do you encounter on home visits?
Chinemere: The assessor will go through the house from the attic all the way down to the basement, looking for asthma triggers, like mold, mice, rats, roaches, water leaks, active and inactive, stains in the ceilings that may indicate a roof leak.
While he or she is doing that, I’m talking to the family all about healthy housing, all about asthma, and getting some real in-depth information from the family in regards to asthma.
We do a scope of work that’s everything we found in the house, from the most hazardous to the least hazardous. We find ways to connect the family with partners in the community, or sometimes we can do the work ourselves.
What are the top asthma triggers you see in houses?
Chinemere: Carpet. If you have mice, your mice are urinating all over that carpet. You have roaches, who actually shed their skin. Their frass, which is a combination of their urine and feces and their shedded skin, is on your carpet. You come from outside. Inside, you have your shoes on, so you’re bringing in pollen, you’re bringing in grass, you’re bringing in possible dog poop. It’s actually holding so many triggers, like dust and dust mites. When we see a family with hardwood [floors], you’re eliminating like 50 percent of the issue right there, just by removing carpet.
Also, you’re going to run into some kind of pest issue. If it’s not mice, it’s rats or roaches. Make sure you’re cleaning and cleaning well.
The third biggest things are VOCs, volatile organic compounds. They are the chemicals in air fresheners, bleach, Fabuloso, Pinesol, Lysol, your plug-ins.
Are these asthma triggers the result of people’s behavior or of their environment?
Chinemere: A lot of times, the environmental plays off the behavioral, and the behavioral plays off the environmental.
The behavioral part of using air fresheners throughout the house is affecting the environmental air quality in the house. But something like a water leak or a roof leak that’s affecting mold, that really isn’t a behavioral thing, that’s more environmental. But if you don’t have the resources to take care of the environmental issue, and you ignore it, you’ve turned it into a behavioral issue because now you’ve gotten to the point in your mind where it’s better to ignore it, so you don’t have to take care of it.
How does trash relate to health?
Chinemere: If you have a lot of trash in your backyard or your alley, you’re going to get rats. You’re going to get mice. You’re going to get roaches. If you have a basement, and it’s full of stuff, you’re going to get mice and rats. It’s a matter of when, not if. Trash is not always an individual behavioral thing. It’s a neighborhood thing. I could take the trash out everyday. I could have metal trash cans indoors, trash bags, lids on my trashcans and still be dealing with mice because my neighbors are not taking care of their trash issue.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.