LOWELL, Mass. - A UMass Lowell researcher who works to alleviate asthma in senior citizens has received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to advance his work.
UMass Lowell Prof. Dave Turcotte leads Healthy Homes, a program that works to reduce asthma among low-income seniors and families living in public and subsidized rental housing in Lowell.
With the new award, the program is taking aim at protecting senior citizens from asthma triggers associated with gas stoves: nitrogen dioxide emissions and microscopic particles including chemicals, metals and dust. While electric stoves do not emit these substances, converting from gas to electric stoves in many apartment buildings is not feasible, according to Turcotte.
The grant will allow Healthy Homes to install portable air filtration units in apartments with gas stoves and provide other equipment with the goal of improving the health of senior tenants with asthma or preventing it. Turcotte and his team will also research whether these measures are effective.
"This study will fill a major knowledge gap. We will be measuring particulates and nitrogen dioxide concentrations in homes that cook with gas stoves as well as reductions in both pollutants when using HEPA-activated charcoal air purifiers, and whether that reduction has a positive effect on the residents' health," Turcotte said. "We always knew particulate matter from anything that burns is a problem, but we didn't have the capacity to focus on it until we received this grant."
For more than a decade, Turcotte's Healthy Homes Project has worked to improve the lives of hundreds of low-income children and seniors with asthma or at risk of the condition. Through the initiative, the UMass Lowell researchers and representatives of the Lowell Community Health Center evaluate rental housing for asthma triggers, including pet dander, excess dust, mold and pests. Tenants are educated on how to better control their asthma and receive tools including vacuum cleaners with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and safer cleaning products that improve their indoor environment and as a result, their health, his findings have shown.
Asthma and other respiratory diseases disproportionately affect minority and low-income residents, particularly among vulnerable populations such as older adults and children, Turcotte said. People age 65 and older who have the disease are the most likely to die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new research will look at whether the air filtration units alone reduce contaminants and improve health, and result in fewer asthma-related doctor visits and hospital stays. The study team will then also offer participants the intervention tools that have proven effective in the past to see if the combination yields a significant increase in healthy outcomes. The resources provided to tenants will be funded through the grant, said Turcotte, who lives in Lowell.
Along with Turcotte, members of the team include Susan Woskie, UMass Lowell professor emeritus of public health, and representatives of Lowell Community Health Center and the Lowell Housing Authority.
The UMass Lowell study is one of seven similar research projects funded by HUD in communities across the country to help lessen the incidence of asthma, Turcotte said.
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Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu
Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu