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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Basic Information about the Indoor Air Quality Tribal Partners Program

Native American and tribal populations bear an excessive burden of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) and asthma. The rate of asthma in the Native American and tribal populations is almost double the national average. Scientific research has found a link between poor IAQ, asthma, and other adverse health effects. It is important to increase awareness among Native American and tribal populations of the health results of poor IAQ and how to improve IAQ in their homes and communities.

The plan is to invite indoor air quality (IAQ) champions working with tribal communities to share innovative approaches, network with others across the nation, and learn about IAQ information and tribal-specific materials.

The goal is to reduce the percentage of Native American and tribal populations exposed to indoor environmental pollutants.


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Asthma Triggers

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that asthma affects almost 12 percent of people living in tribal communities—nearly double the current national average of 7 percent. Managing triggers is especially important for tribal communities who are disproportionately affected by asthma.


Tribal Materials

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Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and exposure to secondhand smoke is sometimes called involuntary or passive smoking.

Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic (poisonous) or carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Although secondhand smoke itself vanishes from sight after a brief period of time, it actually lingers in the air hours after the tobacco has been extinguished. Further, the chemicals in secondhand smoke are absorbed into clothing fabric, drapes, furniture upholstery, and carpeting — leaving dangerous chemicals in the environment long after the smoke vanishes from sight.

Traditional and/or ritual use of tobacco is an important cultural component in many Native American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. For many, tobacco is sacred. It is burned for peace or prayer. Smoking traditional tobacco and manufactured tobacco both may result in health problems — heart attack, stroke and lung disease — in the smoker and his or her children, however, manufactured tobacco is generally treated with more chemicals and thus may be more toxic as a result. Nicotine, the addictive component of cigarettes, is found in both traditional and manufactured tobacco. Traditional and ritual tobacco use is different from the habitual abuse developed by addicted smokers.

EPA’s Smoke Free Homes and Cars Program aims to reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke by asking parents and other caregivers to take a pledge not to smoke inside the home or car. The website has easy to understand information about the health effects of secondhand smoke and materials that can be ordered or downloaded at no cost, including a brochure “Secondhand Tobacco Smoke and the Health of Your Family” is also readily available on the website.

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Radon

Learn about Radon and download Radon materials on EPA's Radon site

Finding Solutions to Improve Radon Testing in Tribes

A picture of Peter Diethrich, GAP Manager of Environmental Programs of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe

Peter Diethrich, GAP Manager of Environmental Programs of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

As the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, radon has become a serious issue for many tribal communities, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of Colorado. Peter Diethrich is the tribe's General Assistance Program — GAP — Manager of Environmental Programs; the goal of the GAP is to assist tribes in developing the capacity to plan and establish environmental protection programs and to develop and implement solid and hazardous waste programs in accordance with their individual needs. Once the Southern Ute Tribe developed an efficient solid waste program, Peter was directed by his EPA grant manager to alter the program to include IAQ with an emphasis on radon.

Peter has taken on radon and faced several challenges in terms of testing — mainly due to location. Situated in the Southwest region of Colorado, many Southern Ute families live in remote areas. Use of short-term carbon tests for radon proved to be difficult due to the time-frame necessary to ship to the lab — typically two to three days. Because of the time and distance, many of the test kits would return with invalid results.

To mediate this challenge, Peter purchased two continuous radon monitoring devices through GAP funding. These tests generate results on the spot. Once Peter visits a tribal home, he can use this tool to measure the concentration of radon in the home by the hour. But Peter's job isn't done after he leaves the homes he tests. By posting advertisements in newspapers and e-newsletters, Peter is able to promote radon testing in the tribe. This strategy was especially useful during National Radon Action Month — NRAM — in January. During NRAM, Peter placed ads in the Tribal Housing and Bureau of Indian Affairs newsletters, which prompted an increase in testing.

Another effective method is through word of mouth — tribal members have encouraged their friends and family to test their homes once they understand the importance and ease of testing. This form of outreach has been a great way to increase and spread awareness on the health risk associated with radon.

To learn more about Peter's work, contact Peter Diethrich at pdieth@southern-utee.nsn.us.

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Mold/Moisture

For basic information about mold growth in homes and its potential health effects, visit EPA’s Mold website.

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Wood Smoke

Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine, microscopic particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from wood smoke comes from fine particles (also called particulate matter). They are small enough to enter the lungs where they can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other serious respiratory diseases. Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases, and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions.

Many old, pot-bellied wood stoves are still functioning to provide warmth and a cooking fire in tribal communities; but they may also be releasing wood smoke that is harmful to the health of everyone exposed to it, especially the young and the old. To avoid these inevitable health risks — and gain the greater efficiency and effectiveness of new, cleaner burning technology wood stoves — it is recommended that old stoves be gradually replaced or “changed out.”

Changing out wood stoves requires a financial investment; however, there are programs that provide financial assistance and manufacturers that provide discounts. The results of replacement speak for themselves with improvements in the health of children and community, home safety, visibility, and indoor air quality.

EPA certified wood stoves burn more efficiently and cleanly.

  • Visit EPA’s Burn Wise website for more information.
  • The Changeout Campaign page provides information for programs, details on costs and access to funding, and links to current changeout programs around the country.

Woodsmoke Information from EPA

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