It was a chronic thing: Almost every time Erma Taylor's great-grandson caught a cold, he also ended up having a severe asthma attack. Taylor, a retired nurse, spent many hours at a hospital, helping to hold the toddler for tests and breathing treatments, and wondering what was causing the attacks.
The one thing Taylor never suspected was that something inside the Falls Church, Va., Cape Cod that she shares with her granddaughter and great-grandson was a source of the 3-year-old's medical problems.
It turned out that mold and mildew from years of shampooing the decades-old carpet were aggravating the little boy's respiratory system.
The carpeting was replaced with wood flooring through a nonprofit group called Rebuilding Together, and Taylor says she has seen marked improvement. "We haven't been back to the hospital since then," Taylor says.
Many homeowners may be unsuspecting victims of medical problems, from asthma attacks to lung cancer, caused by components and conditions in their houses, according to a new federal report.
More than 30 million homes have significant health issues, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. More than 20 million housing units have a lead-based paint hazard. And more than 6.8 million homes have radon exposures above the level at which remedial action should be taken, as determined by the EPA.
The trouble is that many homeowners and renters aren't aware of the link between their housing and their health. Radon exposure, for example, has no immediate symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning can initially resemble the flu. And exposure to some toxins may be confused with seasonal allergies.
"In our cars, we have oil and check engine lights," says Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. "There's no such light for a house."