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Every person deserves a healthy and safe home. Ensuring that our living conditions are healthy and safe not only protects the occupants of today but leads to healthier families for generations to come.

Whether you rent a small apartment or own your dream home, there are a few public health concerns that all people should be aware of.

Lead

Lead poisoning is the No. 1 preventable environmental health threat to children in the United States.  The primary source of lead exposure, especially for young children, is in the home. Children are most likely exposed to lead from paint flecks and dust in homes built before 1978 in poor condition or being renovated. Children and adults can also be exposed to lead from water in old pipes.

Lead exposure in your home can be minimized in a number of different ways. First, keep your home clean and dust free, especially floors, windowsills and other surfaces. Wipe up any paint chips or visible dust with a wet sponge or rag (as opposed to dry dusting) and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Wash children’s toys often and always remove shoes at the door.

When doing home renovations, make sure to hire contractors that are trained in lead-safe work practices. 

Chaffee County Public Health has lead renovation kits with some painting supplies, lead paint test kits and information on how to renovate old homes correctly. These are available to all residents at the Public Health front desk.

If you live in an old home and have children younger than age 6, talk to your doctor or call Public Health to see if they need to have their blood tested for lead levels.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring, tasteless, odorless, invisible gas that can seep from the ground into your home. Inhaling radon gas is a leading cause of lung cancer (second only to cigarettes). The radioactive gas enters the lungs and breaks down healthy lung tissue.

Much of the state of Colorado has been found to have high radon levels (those above 4 picocurries/liter), and short-term tests of 100 homes have quantified Chaffee County’s indoor radon level to be 8.2 pCi/L.

Radon testing is simple. A charcoal-containing packet is left in a sealed room for two to four days.  Residents then send in the packet and get results within a week or two.   Homes found to have radon levels greater than 4 can be fixed by contacting a certified radon mitigator. The average cost of a radon reduction system is $1,000-$3,000.

Chaffee County Public Health has free radon test kits available at Public Health offices in Salida and Buena Vista, the CSU Extension office and at the Chaffee County Courthouse with the Building Department.

Fluoride

Fluoride is a mineral that is naturally found in water and food. Fluoride has several different health benefits, most notably in protecting teeth from decay by hardening the enamel. In areas where fluoride levels are low, it is often added to public water supplies. Before water fluoridation, children had three times as many cavities. 

In Chaffee County, fluoride levels vary greatly. In Salida and Poncha Springs, the community water supply is naturally fluoridated at optimal levels (0.6 to 2 ppm). In Buena Vista, the community water supply has no fluoride. For those who get their water from wells, the fluoride levels vary from no fluoride at all to fluoride levels that are too high. 

Exceptionally high fluoride levels may cause fluorosis, which is permanent white spots on the teeth or yellow/brown stains. Some wells in Chaffee County have levels as high as 13 ppm.

To know if your water has optimal fluoride, check out the CDC’s “My Water’s Fluoride.” If you are not part of a community water supply and have a well, it should be tested.

Chaffee County Public Health has free fluoride well test kits for families with young children. However, anyone can have their well tested for fluoride for around $17 by contacting Julie Nutter at 719-530-2570. She will give you the testing supplies and blank form. You can send payment in with your test to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory Services Division.

Well water

Many Chaffee County residents are dependent upon private drinking water wells for 100 percent of their drinking needs. The quality of these wells is not routinely tested, monitored or regulated; therefore, residents are at risk for bacterial contamination, heavy metal consumption and unhealthy levels of nitrites/nitrates.  

Chaffee County Public Health is excited to announce that it is about to launch a new program that will take a nonregulatory approach to groundwater quality by offering free well water sampling for coliform bacteria and nitrates that will be analyzed at a certified laboratory for critical bacterial and nutrient parameters.

The health department hopes to reduce the barriers residents face in routinely testing their wells. More information will be shared with the community when the contracting process is finalized.

Chaffee County Public Health’s Healthy Homes initiative aims to make all homes in Chaffee County as healthy as possible. For more information about the above health concerns, call the health department today at 719-539-4510.

Emily Anderson is a Chaffee County Public Health nurse.

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