Stuffy? Alexandria Health Department offering $100 to participate in air quality study

Staying home is a good defense against Covid, but what if your home is full of mold? The Alexandria Health Department is recruiting 50 city residents with respiratory issues to participate in a free air quality pilot study, and is offering them $100 in gift cards.

The Alexandria Air Cleaning Evaluation for Healthier Homes pilot is based on the premise that many residents in underserved areas live in conditions that “actively harm their well-being.”

“The biggest piece of public health advice during COVID is to stay home,” Natalie Talis, AHD population health manager, told ALXnow. ” More and more Alexandrians have been spending more time at home because of that, but for many residents home can actually harm their health.”

Participants need to make less than $80,000 a year, have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), have WiFi, and agree to before-and-after home health assessments by the Health Department. After being chosen, entrants will get air quality monitors and portable Medify Air filters installed in their homes for six months, starting in March.

“Even before COVID happened, we knew that your home can impact your health, between air quality, trip hazards, inaccessibility, rodents and pests and mold — these are not new things in Alexandria,” Talis said.  “For people who have asthma, or COPD, things like mold or poor ventilation can really trigger those flare-ups, which could lead to those preventable urgent care or emergency room visits, as well as impacting their quality of life, forcing them to stay home from activities away from work or school.”

Talis said that the pilot is part of a broader effort to make home conditions healthier in poorer neighborhoods around the city.

“The goal is to have data and information about whether an intervention like this can really impact people’s health conditions,” she said. “While this program is specifically focused on respiratory health, the long-term goal is to also address the many other conditions and issues that are related to your home. For example, you know, how are we going to support aging and helping to make sure that homes are accessible for people who may have disabilities or who may need extra modifications in their home?”

In last year’s Community Health Improvement Plan 2025, AHD found the average life expectancy in the city’s heavily Hispanic Arlandria neighborhood is 78, while more affluent areas like Old Town have a life expectancy of 87. Talis also said recent data showed Black residents living in 22304 (in the Landmark area) are disproportionately experiencing higher rates of asthma hospitalizations compared to other members of the community.

According to the Healthy Housing In Alexandria report:

  • More than 70% of Alexandria’s housing stock was built prior to 1990 (many asbestos regulations did not go into effect until 1985), more than 60% was built before 1980 (lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978), and nearly 20% was built before 1950, which means the housing may contain asbestos as well as lead (in paint, pipes, and fixtures) and may not have many of the energy, health, and safety measures commonly employed now.
  • A snapshot of the City’s health available via the 2021 County Healthy Rankings indicates 17% of its housing suffers from severe housing problems; i.e., at least one of the following four issues: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities, or lack of plumbing facilities.12 Of those four issues, high housing costs and overcrowding are the most prevalent in Alexandria; according to the American Community Survey, only 348 units lack kitchens and 143 units lack flush toilets.