While our homes are often thought of as safe spaces, a world first report by Asthma Australia reveals that’s not always the case and finding a solution isn’t always easy.
The ‘Homes, Health and Asthma in Australia’ report released today, reveals the extent Aussie homes are impacting people’s risk of developing or worsening asthma, and what barriers to act look like.
It covers four main areas including mould and dampness; indoor air pollution from cooking; indoor air pollution from heating with gas or wood heaters; and pests – all of which are triggers of causing asthma symptoms or known to contribute to a new asthma diagnosis.
CEO of Asthma Australia Michele Goldman said some results were very concerning and more awareness was needed about homes and our health.
“We found that almost one third of people with asthma or allergies have worse symptoms when they are at home, regardless of whether they own their home, rent or live in social housing. This is a huge amount of people,” Ms Goldman said.
The survey also highlights more needs to be done to raise awareness around cooking with gas.
The combustion of gas during cooking and heating produces a variety of air pollutants including fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, worsening indoor air quality. Exposure to these pollutants can trigger asthma flare-ups and contribute to the development of asthma.
“The report shows that nearly half (48%) of Aussies are using a gas cooktop. That means many of us are potentially exposed to toxic emissions every time we cook a meal for ourselves and our loved ones, which can worsen or cause asthma, especially in our children,” Ms Goldman adds.
Cooking with gas is estimated to be responsible for up to 12% of the childhood asthma burden in Australia, which is comparable to the risk of tobacco smoke exposure in the home.
“It’s important we start a dialogue about the health risks that are attached to the things we accept in our homes. There are healthier alternatives available, but some members of the community need support to access them,” Ms Goldman explains.
The ‘Homes, Health and Asthma in Australia’ report reveals the following key findings:
- 48% of Australians use a gas cooktop for cooking in the home and 7% of Australians use unflued gas heaters regularly during cooler months.
- 50% of Australians have had mould or dampness in their home in the last 12 months, with one third (34%) specifically reporting mould in their home. Any level of mould is considered unsafe for health, for people with and without asthma. Exposure to mould also increases the risk of developing asthma and the recent La Niña weather pattern is a driving factor.
- 70% of Australians have had pests (including spiders, ants, cockroaches, dust-mites and mice) in their home in the last 12 months. Airborne allergens from these pests can trigger allergic reactions and asthma flare-ups, and some of these allergens are associated with an increased risk of developing asthma.
The cost of taking action to reduce triggers or exposure to triggers was a major barrier for many Australians surveyed.
One quarter of Australians (25%) said that it is too expensive to purchase or use equipment, like air purifiers, to use while cooking or against mould and pests, and this is considered secondary to their everyday living costs.
“I have budget limitations to install some items that would help (eg a fan in the bathroom and exhaust for rangehood). I would like to buy an air purifier but again have no budget with rising interest rates and cost of living.” – survey respondent.
“One third of respondents (35%) said they can’t switch from using gas cooktops as they don’t own their home,” Ms Goldman explained.
“This is where government financial incentives or subsidies for landlords could really help,” she added.
Six out of 10 Australians said they are confident to make changes to improve the air quality inside their home, however, common barriers to taking action alongside cost barriers include a lack of ownership to make changes to the property when not theirs, and lack of concern or knowledge.
“Some respondents said they were afraid their landlords could raise the rent or evict them if they asked for help with common problems like mould,” Ms Goldman said.
“I live in a rental, and they are terrible at doing any sort of maintenance, and so I feel like they would penalise me if I mentioned potential mould.” – survey respondent.
Asthma Australia has identified a range of areas where policy measures could improve the health of homes and seeks to engage with stakeholders around these survey results to advocate for change.
“The survey presents new information so we are looking forward to working with housing advocates, government and industry to put some of these findings into action while raising awareness in the community,” Ms Goldman added.
The report is based on a nationally representative survey of 5,041 people between the 17 – 30 June 2022.
View the full report findings here, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Sarah Baker e. firstname.lastname@example.org mob. 0435 649 790
Teresa Vella email@example.com mob. 0403 895 144