Silent Spring awarded federal grant to study environmental hazards in Rochester children’s homes

October 27, 2020

healthy homesThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded a $927,069 grant to a partnership between Silent Spring Institute, the University of Rochester, the National Center for Healthy Housing, and the City of Rochester to study the impacts of home rehabilitation and resident engagement on exposures to harmful environmental chemicals within the home. This project will build on Rochester’s nationally recognized lead poisoning prevention work to inform efforts to protect children and families from a wide range of home hazards.

The partners will work with the City of Rochester’s highly successful Lead Hazard Control plus Healthy Homes program, which provides grants to low-income owner-occupants and landlords to address lead hazards in pre-1978 housing. The City of Rochester has received over $35 million in grant funding from HUD over the past 15 years to support lead hazard remediation in thousands of city homes.

This study will for the first time explore the potential of HUD-funded Lead Hazard Control grants to affect a wide range of other home-based exposures including pesticides, allergens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals such as flame retardants and phthalates. These chemical exposures contribute to a wide range of health concerns including asthma, learning disabilities, reproductive system problems, and cancer. The Lead Hazard Control grant program serves low-income families with young children, who are at particular risk from these environmental hazards.

Working with 100 owner-occupants over the next three years, the research team will study a wide range of chemicals in household dust before and after lead hazard control interventions. The project will engage with residents to educate them about how to maintain a healthy home, use safer consumer products (cleaners, air fresheners, pest control), and access additional community resources for support.

The University of Rochester has partnered with community stakeholders and the City of Rochester for several decades to develop childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts that are widely recognized as a national model. The new project builds on this collaboration and extends it to broader environmental health concerns by working with Silent Spring Institute. Robin Dodson, Sc.D., the lead investigator from Silent Spring, is an environmental exposure scientist with expertise in analyzing multiple chemical exposures in household dust. "With this grant, we will deepen our understanding of how to effectively create healthier homes, especially among the most vulnerable, by lowering indoor exposures to harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals," said Dodson.

“This grant will let us build on our longstanding partnership with the City of Rochester to learn how we can leverage childhood lead poisoning prevention efforts to maximize a wide range of lifelong health benefits for children and their families,” said Katrina Smith Korfmacher, Ph.D., associate professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Korfmacher has worked extensively with Rochester’s community-based lead poisoning prevention efforts and is a co-principal investigator on the new HUD grant.

“I want to congratulate the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Environmental Health Sciences Center on this award of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to study methods to improve environmental conditions in the home,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren. “Thanks in large part to our partnership with the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning and our adoption of the Lead Ordinance, the City of Rochester has been cited as the national ‘gold standard’ for healthy housing policies. We are excited to partner with the University of Rochester and Silent Spring Institute to build on the success of these initiatives to find even more opportunities to provide all children and their families with access to homes that are healthy and safe.”

The National Center for Healthy Housing is a national non-profit group that conducts research and promotes policies to promote health equity through improved housing quality. NCHH will inform the resident engagement component of the study, based on the New York State Healthy Neighborhoods Program and will disseminate results through its national networks of community groups, policymakers, and healthy homes professionals.

The research team expects that the findings will inform future HUD grant programs, policies, and practices to better protect children’s environmental health. Efforts to cost-effectively address home environmental health hazards are particularly important now, as children and families spend more time at home due to the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders, as well as the economic challenges facing many families. “This project builds on years of work on lead poisoning prevention in Rochester that has shown demonstrated success protecting children’s health, has provided a model for other communities, and has informed federal programs and policies,” said Korfmacher. “We hope that our findings will support efforts to protect children from other important hazards in their homes.”

(Source: University of Rochester Medical Center)