Low Income Housing and The Role of Asbestos

Sep 24, 2021

A blog post from Mesothelioma Awareness Day advocates on account of Mesothelioma Awareness Day on September 26.

Among the five social determinants of health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists Neighborhood and Built Environment as having “a major impact on [people’s] health and well-being.” The objectives of this determinant consist of measures to either increase public policy changes or reduce exposures to harmful substances, deaths, and the statistics shaped by low-quality living. The quality of a person’s life, ability to function, and risk factors depend on the conditions of the individual’s environments by which they are surrounded.

Evidence supports a relationship between housing and health. Unstable housing contributes to mental health disorders, higher morbidities, and “worsened outcomes, including depression, anxiety, increased alcohol use, psychological distress, and suicide.” Conversely, housing that has a number of deleterious environmental factors forces residents to live in substandard conditions.

Inadequate housing has adverse effects on children, families, and individuals, with long-term repercussions. Living in these types of places also increases the risk of these hazards, as the exposure rates are prolonged. A major contributor to inadequate living conditions is the presence of asbestos in the home.

Homes built before 1980 are at a higher risk of having been built with asbestos containing materials (ACMs) than those built after 1980. This is dangerous because exposure to asbestos greatly increases the chances of developing a health condition, such as mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis later in life. Oftentimes, people do not know if they are being exposed to the substance, which is why it is of the utmost importance that housing environments are up to code and checked for asbestos before residents move in.

Low-income neighborhoods are commonly located in areas made up of homes built before the 1980s as property owners take advantage of their residents and do not always keep these living environments up to code. In A Shortage of Affordable Homes by the National Low Income Housing Coalition expressed this: “[e]xtremely low-income renters have little, if any, money remaining for other necessities after paying their rent.” Unfortunately, the populations affected by low-income housing are “special needs and senior renters [who] are more likely than other renters to have extremely low incomes.”

Additionally, many new homebuyers are beginning to purchase these homes as “fixer-uppers” and are unaware of the implications of asbestos exposure. Therefore, it is important to close this gap and ensure that community residents have the knowledge they need surrounding the dangers of asbestos.

In order to educate community members, local health departments can improve asbestos knowledge in their areas by providing local resources. Community outreach ideas to promote the dangers of asbestos include:

  • Provide free education resources (classes, newsletters, videos) about asbestos, home renovations, and what to do if asbestos is found in your home
  • Implement a local help hotline or chat feature for those exposed to asbestos
  • Advocate for stricter policies that identify asbestos as a public health threat and hold landlords responsible for getting their properties inspected
  • Hold community events for free asbestos testing kits

This is just the tip of the iceberg of actions local health departments can take to raise awareness surrounding asbestos exposure. It is crucial to encourage community members to learn about the dangers and help provide resources to ensure that they are living in a safe environment with clean air.

Awareness events, such as Mesothelioma Awareness Day or Global Asbestos Awareness Week are key opportunities to take advantage of at the local level and use as a resource for providing information to local residents. Asbestos is no joke, especially in low-income communities, so it is crucial that we do what we can to improve the health, safety, and livelihood of our community members.


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