Assessment of Community Awareness and Practices Concerning Indoor Air Pollutants — Madison County, Alabama, June 2017
Weekly / April 20, 2018 / 67(15);447–450
Charlene Siza, DVM1,2; Melissa Morrison, MPH3,4; Scott Harris, MD5; Timothy Hatch, MPA4; Michael Tyler, MSW4 (View author affiliations)View suggested citation
What is already known about this topic?
Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) is a household-level rapid assessment commonly used during disasters and emergency preparedness planning.
What is added by this report?
The CASPER conducted among 192 households in Madison County, Alabama, about selected indoor air pollutants and routine emergency preparedness found the majority of residents were aware of potential indoor lead exposures and had heard of radon, but most had not tested for either. Smoking inside the house occurred among 22% of households.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Using the CASPER methodology in nondisaster settings to collect community-specific data can guide targeted intervention and prevention recommendations for local public health departments and their community partners.
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The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) conducts an annual community assessment to evaluate household preparedness and local public health concerns. In June 2017, ADPH conducted a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER), focusing on indoor air pollutants in seven neighborhoods in Madison County, Alabama, where a large percentage of homes were built before 1980. Local health partners had concerns about indoor air quality and environmental risks such as radon; however, limited information was available regarding community awareness, prevention, and mitigation measures related to potential exposures. Weighted response frequencies were calculated from assessment responses. Among 192 household interview respondents, 78.4% were aware of potential indoor lead exposures, but only 12.6% of respondents living in houses built before 1978 reported that the house had been tested for lead. Similarly, respondents in 70.2% of households had heard of radon; however, only 7.3% of houses had been tested for radon. Smoking was reported by residents of 45.7% of households; among those, 48.4% reported that smoking occurred inside the house. Identified gaps in exposure prevention and mitigation, including low lead and radon testing rates and a high prevalence of indoor smoking, were shared with the local health department, and recommendations for timely interventions and policy guidance (e.g., targeted education campaigns and smoking cessation programs) were presented. Results of this CASPER demonstrated its usefulness and efficiency in gathering community-level data to help guide public health policies and timely interventions.
According to ADPH’s Radon Program, Madison County’s underground geology, which allows radon gas to accumulate and more readily enter houses and other buildings above ground, places it at high risk for elevated radon levels (1,2). The sampling frame for the CASPER included seven neighborhoods identified by community partners as having a majority of homes built before 1980. Census blocks that included these neighborhoods were obtained from 2010 U.S. Census data, which indicated that the sampling frame included 1,772 occupied houses with 4,486 residents. CASPER methodology was used (3); 30 census blocks were selected randomly from a total of 78 blocks, with the probability of selection proportional to the number of housing units in that block (hereafter referred to as clusters). Within each cluster, seven households were selected for interviews using systematic random sampling, for a target of 210 interviews. If one of the original seven households was not available or the residents refused to participate, systematic random sampling was used to select another household. Two-person interview teams conducted interviews with one respondent aged ≥18 years from each selected household. Contact was attempted at 407 households, and successful contact with a respondent was made at 281. Overall, 192 (91.4%) of the targeted 210 surveys were completed, representing a response rate* of 47.2% and a cooperation rate† of 68.3%.
The questionnaire for this assessment was adapted from previous CASPERs and established surveillance systems, including the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Because of the reported high risk for exposure to indoor air pollutants, including lead and radon, in the selected neighborhoods, a special topics section was added to the questionnaire that focused on knowledge and prevention practices related to indoor air pollutants and included questions on exposure to tobacco smoke, mold, dust, and relevant respiratory health conditions in any household member.
Data were analyzed to obtain response frequencies for each question. Analysis was weighted to account for the complex sampling method and more accurately represent the sampling figure (3). Weighted percentages are reported.
Awareness of potential lead exposures in older homes was reported by residents of 78.4% of households (Table 1). Among 86 houses built before 1978, residents in 12.6% reported that lead testing had been conducted. Although no positive test results were reported, respondents in 29.3% of these households did not know or refused to report whether their homes had been tested. Overall, 14 (6.7%) respondents reported that a household resident had been previously tested for increased blood lead levels; among those tested, two were reported to have an elevated (≥5 μg/dL) blood lead level (weighted percentage 14.3%) (Table 1).
Respondents in 70.2% of households reported awareness of radon (Table 2). Although 87.8% of household respondents who reported awareness of radon agreed with the statement that prolonged exposure to radon could be harmful, only 23.9% were aware that prolonged radon exposure could cause lung cancer (4), and only 17.1% of household respondents were aware that a free radon test kit could be requested from the health department. Among 131 respondents reporting awareness of radon, 7.3% stated that their homes had already been tested.
Among other self-reported indoor pollutant exposures, excessive dust was most commonly reported (22.4% of households) (Table 3). Respondents in 45.7% of households reported any current smoking by at least one household member, and among these, 48.4% reported that smoking occurred indoors (22.1% of all households).
The most frequently reported respiratory diagnoses among respondents were allergies (45.0%) and asthma (21.5%). Diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (5.6%), emphysema (4.0%), and lung cancer (2.6%) were also reported. These conditions were reported separately as seen in other respiratory surveys, despite clinical and pathologic overlap. In the preceding 12 months, 58.1% of household respondents reported a resident who experienced allergies (Table 3).
Among Madison County households at risk, interviews identified gaps in respondent knowledge and protective behaviors related to indoor air pollutants. A majority of household respondents reported being aware that lead exposure could exist in older homes; however, respondents in only a small percentage of houses built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned for residential use, reported that their homes had been tested. Lead-based hazards from paint chips or an accumulation in dust or soil are more common in older homes (5). Creation of lead dust by sanding surfaces or removing old paint presents a hazard during home remodeling or renovation (6). This might not only pose a risk to household residents, but also an occupational risk to workers who perform these renovations.
A second important indoor air pollutant is radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking (4). Madison County is an area with a high potential for elevated radon levels (2). The majority of household respondents reported awareness of radon, but fewer than a quarter knew that it could cause lung cancer. More importantly, few houses had been tested for elevated indoor radon levels. Although free test kits are available through the health department, few respondents knew of this service.
In addition to possible harmful exposures related to lead and radon in the home, respondents in nearly half of households reported that at least one resident in the home smoked, and in almost half of these houses, smoking indoors was reported. Smoking, especially indoors, might result in exposure of other household members to secondhand smoke, which is known to increase the risk for cancer, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases including stroke (7). Educating residents about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure and the benefits of implementing smoke-free rules in their households is an important intervention that, along with smoking cessation and support programs, can improve health in these neighborhoods (8).
Interviews with members of households indicated that, among respiratory conditions diagnosed by health care providers, allergies and asthma were the most prevalent although other severe conditions such as emphysema, COPD, and lung cancer also were reported. Although causality cannot be inferred from this analysis, information on respiratory conditions prevalent in these areas could be used to help prioritize interventions potentially related to indoor air pollutant exposures.
The findings of this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, although households were systematically selected, participation was voluntary, and the findings might be subject to response and social desirability biases, which could overestimate the prevalence of certain health conditions or reported knowledge about indoor pollutants. Second, the information gathered by the CASPER is only representative of the sampling frame chosen and cannot be used to draw conclusions about other communities or regions in Alabama.
Conducting a community assessment is a relatively rapid and inexpensive way to obtain a better understanding of the current health-related needs of a community. This assessment obtained data on knowledge and prevention practices related to indoor air pollutants in neighborhoods known to be at increased risk and suggested that community health interventions to raise awareness of the importance of testing homes for lead and to provide educational resources to reduce lead exposure risks when remodeling older homes are needed. In addition, the findings provide evidence that public health programs need to increase awareness of radon testing and mitigation options in these neighborhoods with a high risk for radon exposure as well as provide smoking cessation options and education about secondhand smoke effects. Community-specific data can aid policy makers and local or federal partners in developing and implementing targeted interventions.
Tesfaye Bayleyegn, Amy Schnall, Aminata Dumbuya, CDC; Angie Wright, Alabama Department of Public Health.
Conflict of Interest
No conflicts of interest were reported.
Corresponding author: Charlene Siza, CSiza@cdc.gov, 334-206-5971.
1Epidemic Intelligence Service, CDC; 2Bureau of Communicable Disease, Alabama Department of Public Health; 3Division of State and Local Readiness, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, CDC; 4Center for Emergency Preparedness, Alabama Department of Public Health; 5Office of the State Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health.
* Response rate is calculated as the number of completed interviews divided by the number of households where contact was attempted.
† Cooperation rate is calculated as the number of completed interviews divided by the number of households where contact with a respondent was made.
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Suggested citation for this article: Siza C, Morrison M, Harris S, Hatch T, Tyler M. Assessment of Community Awareness and Practices Concerning Indoor Air Pollutants — Madison County, Alabama, June 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2018;67:447–450. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6715a3external icon.
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