Common Environmental Health Hazards: Tips and Advice from Orkin

New survey finds homeowners do little to protect themselves against common environmental health hazards

A new national survey reveals that homeowners and renters are aware of common environmental threats such as lead, mold, radon and pest-related diseases, but do not take simple actions to protect themselves and their families.

Orkin, Inc., one of the nation’s largest pest control companies, designed the survey with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s premier public health agency, and the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH), a national scientific organization focused on protecting children from environmental hazards in their homes while preserving affordable housing. The survey polled respondents on health issues in and around the home and whether or not individuals were routinely taking steps to protect themselves.

According to the survey, the majority of homeowners and renters (61 percent) are aware and concerned that pests like ticks, mosquitoes, roaches and rodents may negatively affect their health and nearly all (95 percent) were aware that pests can spread diseases. However, an overwhelming majority (60 to 70 percent) do not consult a professional to control pests inside their homes.

Similarly, a total of 68 percent of respondents are concerned that other environmental home hazards will negatively affect their health, yet most (70 percent) have never tested or inspected their homes for lead, radon, carbon monoxide or mold.

According to Dr. Emily Zielinski-Gutierrez, behavioral scientist for the CDC’s National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases, “People are aware that pests can spread germs that cause disease, but in the rush of everyday life we can still forget to take actions to protect ourselves, like wearing repellent while working and playing in our own backyard. There is a gap between awareness and action, and we want to narrow that gap by sharing simple steps for prevention in and around the home.”

The CDC, NCHH and Orkin have launched a public awareness campaign to educate individuals on how to protect themselves against hidden home threats. More than half of survey respondents (57 percent) do not seek information about how to mitigate home health risks, yet there are countless ways individuals can reduce common threats.

“Reducing and preventing pest activity are two of the first steps to take toward creating a healthy home,” states Ron Harrison, Ph.D. and director of training for Orkin, Inc. According to Harrison, pests likely to pose health threats in and around the home include:

  • Rodents, which can contaminate food and transmit diseases;
  • Cockroaches, which spread germs and trigger asthma attacks;
  • Mosquitoes, which need only a thimble-full of standing water to breed and can transmit West Nile virus and other diseases; and
  • Ticks, which transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Pest prevention is crucial to making a home safe. Harrison shares that integrated pest management, which includes sealing cracks and crevices and keeping food in tightly sealed containers, can make a big impact. The majority of survey respondents (65 percent) allow dirty dishes to sit out for more than two hours, a habit that Harrison says is sure to attract potentially disease-carrying pests like cockroaches.

Additionally, trimming plants and bushes away from the house and removing standing water in the yard can help control mosquitoes and ticks. The CDC recommends wearing repellant with DEET when outdoors and carefully inspecting people and pets for ticks once inside.

“Some of the deadliest hazards in the home environment cannot be seen or smelled,” said Rebecca Morley, executive director of NCHH. “Everyone needs to be aware of these hidden home threats and take steps to reduce risks.”

For example, radon—a naturally occurring gas in all parts of the country, and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers—can be detected through a $10 test kit available at most hardware stores. If radon is detected, a professional can be hired to mitigate gas exposure to residents in the house.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that sends up to 40,000 people to the emergency room and kills 500 in the U.S. each year. Yet, according to the survey, 50 percent of homeowners and renters did not have a carbon monoxide alarm in their homes. In addition to installing alarms near sleeping areas, ensuring appliances are correctly installed and properly functioning, as well as inspecting and cleaning heating systems and chimneys, can lessen the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Most survey respondents (82 percent) were aware that exposure to lead-based paint can cause developmental delays in children, but the majority had not tested their homes for the presence of lead dust. To lessen risk, individuals should wash children’s hands and toys frequently and hire a professional to inspect homes built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Homeowners and renters should also be aware that painting or renovating an older home can place them at higher risk for exposure.

Mold can cause allergic reactions such as watery eyes and trouble breathing, as well as triggering asthma attacks. While 50 percent of respondents claimed to have allergies, many may not know prevention tips like using water alarms; using dehumidifiers to reduce dampness in homes; removing and repairing water-damaged materials such as carpets, wallboard, and ceilings; and installing exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens.

To access a one-page guide on hidden home threats and simple steps to reduce these risks, visit:

Or, for additional information on hidden home threats, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.

The Orkin survey was conducted by Persuadable Research between April 25 and 30, 2007. The email interviews were conducted among 1,166 adults (aged 18 and over) nationwide. Of the respondents, 64 percent own their homes while 34 percent rent. At the 95 percent confidence level, the margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

About Orkin, Inc.

Founded in 1901, Atlanta-based Orkin, Inc. is an industry leader in essential pest control services and protection against termite damage, rodents and insects in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. With more than 400 locations, Orkin’s almost 8,000 employees in the United States and Canada serve approximately 1.7 million customers. Orkin is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rollins, Inc., which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (ROL). Learn more about Orkin by visiting www.orkin.com and www.rollins.com.

About the National Center for Healthy Housing

National Center for Healthy Housing is the only national nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and promoting practical measures to protect children from residential environmental hazards while preserving affordable housing. NCHH seeks scientifically valid and practical strategies to make homes safe from hazards, to alert low- income families about housing-related health risks, and to help them protect their children. NCHH also works with governmental and non-governmental organizations to develop standards and programs and guide their implementation through insurers, lenders, federal and state laws and regulations, community organizations, and the courts. For more information, visit http://www.centerforhealthyhousing.org.

About the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an organization that protects people’s health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing creditable information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations. As a federal agency, CDC does not promote or endorse specific products or entities. For more information please visit www.cdc.gov.