Safe at Home

Free program inspects houses for hazards you can’t see

We spend the majority of our time indoors, so it’s important to breathe clean, healthy air. But with microscopic problems such as lead, mold, radon and asbestos, how do you know what you’re breathing?

The Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership has the answer. The program—which joins UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences, the Southern Nevada Health District and other agencies—aims to improve the environment inside the homes of Clark County residents. It was born of a federal Healthy Homes Initiative put forth by Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership was founded by Shawn L. Gerstenberger, Ph.D., the executive associate dean of UNLV’s School of Community Health Sciences. “The program has people look at their home as a critical determinant of health,” Gerstenberger says. “Most of us spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors, and the indoor environment has a great deal of influence on our health and wellness, as well as indicators and outcomes related to those things.”

Often people don’t even realize that something in their home could be detrimental to their health, today and down the line.

“We go through and evaluate everything in your home that may be contributing to adverse health effects,” says Gerstenberger. Inspections are free for all, but priority is given to those who couldn’t otherwise afford an inspection, and the condition of the home. Inspectors look for pests, asbestos, gasses, mold, problems with appliances and furnaces, adequate ventilation, poison prevention measures, asthma triggers, safety issues for small children and the elderly, pool fencing and more. They are often able to work with low-income families to provide free remediation services as well.

Some of the common things that Gerstenberger sees are relatively simple issues, ranging from blocked ventilation ducts to maintenance problems such as dirty air filters. “It gets so clogged it blocks the efficiency of the furnace and gives bad air quality to the home,” he says.

The program is an extension of the Childhood Lead Poison Prevention Program (CLPPP), which was started about five years ago. Under CLPPP, inspectors test homes for lead-based paint. Over the years, CLPPP inspectors realized it made sense to check for other problems at the same time. With the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership, inspectors still look for lead-based paint, but they’re also doing a complete assessment for wellness and health.

More than a dozen community partners are involved with the Nevada Healthy Homes Partnership, including Rebuilding Together, HomeFree Nevada, the city of Las Vegas, the city of Henderson, the city of North Las Vegas, Habitat for Humanity and the American Lung Association.

UNLV is home to the only designated Healthy Homes training center in Nevada. The center, which is funded through a CDC grant, trains first responders, health professionals and citizens to become certified health inspectors.

“We try and leverage all the resources of our community partners to get whatever it is we need done, done,” Gerstenberger says. “I think that’s the real value of the project.”

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