Damp Homes and Health: Ya Don’t Say…

Editor’s note: Here is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Six weeks ago I contacted Chronicle editor Mark Dawson regarding a significant health threat to many families in our community. I knew that damp homes, mould and respiratory illness would be major issues for the rest of winter and far into the spring. Slightly tongue in cheek I titled the email, “Health Epidemic Looming!”

I was fishing for a headline to rival “GASSED!” but had to settle for a sidebar for my weekly column:

“Our soils are super-saturated and likely to remain so for at least the next 4 months.

Rising damp will be a major issue for many homes for the remainder of winter.

Rising damp can account for 30-60 litres of moisture inside a home per day.

Cold, damp homes make people sick.

Sick people miss school and work.

“We can be proactive about addressing the issue now by:

Bringing attention that damp homes will be even worse this winter.

Installing a ground vapour barrier is cheap and effective.

If you are unable to install a ground vapour barrier then other effective strategies should be involved.”

Good on the Chronicle to helping distribute information sheets on moisture and condensation in homes, and on how to prevent rising damp. These materials are still available at the Chronicle offices in Guyton Street. They are the most up to date and accurate materials in the nation at this time, and have been written to be easy to read.

Good on Doug Davidson and the River City Press for helping raise awareness about the health threat to our community, and for making the information sheets available at the RCP offices.

Considering the attention the issue of unhealthy homes has received from local media as well as national media – lead by the infamous Duncan Garner – it raises the question as to why our local health care community has failed to recognize this significant and foreseeable problem.

On second thought, I should not say the issue has gone unseen by health care professionals. As reported in the Chronicle (3rd August), Phil Murphy of the Whanganui Regional Health Network said, “Nationally, Wanganui’s child health doesn’t compare well. That’s because of the type of population here – typically high needs, low income and poor housing, which is particularly relevant when talking about respiratory illness.”

So far so good. What’s the next step?

Apparently, the solution to the problem of unhealthy homes in our city is to make a map. I’m all for collecting data, but this approach really seems like treating sick children like statistics rather than human beings living in shitty homes. If this is the best strategy we can expect from the health providers in our city, no wonder a Chronicle headline the following day (4th August) read, “DHB changes are ‘short-sighted’.

You don’t need an “app” to know where the shitty houses are in Whanganui.

To be fair, the article on the 4th was about a completely different issue, but isn’t the headline a telling reflection on the article that appeared on the 3rd?

Mapping unhealthy homes while doing nothing about them is like tracking northern white rhinos while letting poachers shoot them. Cecil the lion was well monitored, but he ended up dead by a bullet from a trophy hunter.

If we want to have a serious discussion about children’s health in our community we need to address the elephant in the room. In so many cases the child’s own bedroom is ‘the elephant in the room’. Mould is not a normal condition of housing and we should not tolerate it as so.

The only way for us to move toward a healthier community is to take a holistic approach to the well being of all its members. Anything short of a holistic, cooperative approach to community health will end up being unsuccessful and costly.

Six weeks ago I told Doug Davidson that there was no doubt in my mind that hospital visits due to respiratory illness would be up this winter. I’m sure the DHB has a tidy graph showing just that. What’s the next step?

For my part, I’ll be scrutinizing the WDHB board candidates a lot closer next year than I did in 2013.


Peace, Estwing