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Army Public Health Center expert offers healthy housing tips

By Douglas Holl | Army Public Health Center Public Affairs | June 10, 2020

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland —

For many Soldiers and their Families, spring and summer bring not just warmer weather, but new orders and permanent change of station moves.

Although COVID-19 concerns have temporarily halted many but the most essential military moves, now is a good time to think about how to keep your current or future residence healthy and minimize housing hazard risks like lead or mold exposure.

“Residents should frequently inspect their homes and report or repair small issues and minor damages before they become major issues and large repairs,” said Vickie Hawkins, an industrial hygienist and chief of the Army Pubic Health Center Indoor Air Quality and Force Exposure Assessment and Control Branch.

Hawkins and her APHC team provide installation housing managers with support in conducting inspections of Army Family housing and remotely provide industrial hygiene consultation, report review, sampling interpretation, guidance and support for mold, lead, asbestos, and radon concerns.

Hawkins said the greatest risk for lead hazards in the home is lead paint in pre-1978 housing or if the parent has a hobby or job that involves lead.

Installations and Residential Communities Initiative property landlords must inform all new tenants of Army Family housing what is known about lead-based paint and lead hazards in their units. Installations must also provide residents with the EPA pamphlet “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home.”

“In general, lead present in intact paint is not a hazard,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins recommends immediately reporting any paint damage or deterioration for repair. Paint on impact surfaces (windows, window sills, doors) and handrails have the greatest potential to chip, flake, or create dust.

“Frequently wipe down these surfaces with a wet cloth and clean floors to reduce the potential of exposure to lead in the paint,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins explains paint can also be found on the exterior of the house and in the soil around the home.

"Remove shoes or wipe soil off shoes before entering your house if you have concerns over lead in the outside," Hawkins said.

If a parent works or is involved in a hobby where they are exposed to lead, change out clothes and shoes before coming into the home, Hawkins said.

“Children are especially susceptible to lead exposure,” Hawkins said. “Talk to your medical provider about blood lead level testing if you have any concerns.”

Residents concerned about mold should focus on controlling moisture, which is the key factor in reducing mold exposure risks.

“Frequently check your home for signs of leaks and water damage especially around plumbing, doorways, windows, and ceilings,” Hawkins said. “Also inspect your roof for damage. It is important to find the source of any leak or water damage and to make repairs immediately.”

If wet or damp materials are dried within 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, mold will not grow in most cases.

Regularly clear exterior drains and gutters on the home to prevent blockages that could cause water to enter the home. Ensure the drain spouts are extended 4 feet away from the house and the ground cover is graded/sloped so that water runs away from the house foundation.

Keep air conditioning drip pans clean. When showering, run the bathroom fan or open a window. Use exhaust fans or vent appliances that produce moisture (stoves, dishwashers, clothes dryers, etc.).

For regional areas that may have more humidity or moisture in the air, Hawkins recommends using air conditioners and de-humidifiers when needed.

“It may be tempting to turn off your air conditioning while you are out of the house or on vacation, but in warm humid climates, the air conditioning helps keep the humidity down inside your home, which reduces the risk of mold growth,” Hawkins said. “Address any visible mold growth promptly and speak with your medical provider if you are concerned that something in your home is making you sick or otherwise impacting your or your child’s health.”

Hawkins also has a few general recommendations, some of which come from her experience inspecting Army Family housing.

“During inspections, many homes were observed with the clothes dryer vent blocked with debris at the back of the dryer inside the home and at the outside exhaust pipe opening,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins recommends keeping the dryer exhaust free from any debris, including the pest-proofing screens covering these openings. Failure to keep these free from any lint or debris is a potential fire hazard and an efficiency destroyer. Residents should report any conditions related to clogged dryer vents to their housing management office.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends housing residents cover electric sockets, childproof cabinets and drawers, and put up gates or close doors where fall hazards are present. Store household chemicals and poisons out of reach of children and away from food, and frequently wipe down and clean children’s toys. Ensuring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are properly installed is also important.

The APHC has webpages with resources and tips for homeowners in dealing with mold and lead in the home:

APHC: Mold and Indoor Air Quality

APHC: Information on Lead Exposure

The APHC has also created the Housing Environmental Health Response Registry for residents who have any concerns about Army Family housing or related health concerns.

They can contact the registry telephone number (1-800-984-8523; overseas DSN: (312) 421-3700) for more information on housing environmental health hazards, assistance seeking medical care for housing-related illnesses and concerns, and to have the U.S. Army Medical Command share their concerns with Army leadership.

Contact care representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information on the registry can be found at the Housing Environmental Health Response Registry site.

The Army Public Health Center enhances Army readiness by identifying and assessing current and emerging health threats, developing and communicating public health solutions, and assuring the quality and effectiveness of the Army’s Public Health Enterprise.