Home is Where the HEART Is

Working to ensure safe indoor air and water, and a hazard-free home environment with the White Mountain Apache Tribe

Environmental Health

Native traditions hold dear the preservation of the environment—especially water and air. We are partnering with the White Mountain Apache Tribal Housing Authority on a new project called “HEART”, or the Home Environmental Assessment and Remediation (HEART) project. We hope this project will protect multigenerational families in their home environment while developing the local workforce.

HEART focuses on specific health hazards we know to exist in reservation homes. As part of this study, we are training Apache community members to measure indoor air and water quality in approximately 20 homes across the reservation. In addition, the team will perform household safety assessments. 

For this pilot project, we are recruiting households that have families that include individuals over 50 years old or under 6 years old. Our past research has shown that multi-generational homes and the youngest and oldest people in the population are most vulnerable to injuries and diseases associated with poor quality air and water.

After we conduct the home environmental assessments, skilled White Mountain Apache workers will make selected home repairs. 

Testing water for heavy metals
We are testing household water samples for heavy metals—arsenic, cadmium, manganese, and uranium—and the bacteria E. coli. These contaminants can cause chronic or acute diseases, some life-threatening.  

Monitoring indoor air quality where households use wood-burning stoves
For the indoor air quality assessment, we will be looking for fine particulate matter, a measure of indoor air pollution, and CO2 concentration, a measure of indoor ventilation.  Each of these indicators can contribute to conditions of the lungs, heart, and brain.

For example, currently, over 90% of the households on the reservation rely on wood-burning stoves. This can contribute to indoor air pollution particularly if stoves are older or not properly installed. High indoor air pollution is a major health concern and is associated with increased risk of respiratory infections, cataracts, and chronic respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).    

Preventing household injuries through hazard checklist
In preparation for this project, we learned that elderly and children are suffering dangerous falls, unintentional poisoning, and burns—often caused by hazards in their homes. In the HEART study, we will use an injury checklist to examine injury risks in the home and then do work to reduce those risks.

We are grateful for support from Bill Clarke’s Osprey Foundation and the Suzanne Robert Native American Dream Fund for this exciting project. We began enrolling households into the study in November and we expect to complete the study by the middle of 2017. Our long-term goal will be to share the model with our other tribal partners across the U.S.

Photo by Ed Cunicelli of Dianna Quay, a Research Program Assistant with the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. Diana is setting up an air monitor that detects the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, or particles that when inhaled can cause acute and chronic respiratory inflammation. 

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