research participants; and researchers’ role-specific obligations to develop plans for responding to risks that are incidentally observed when they enter children’s homes. On these issues we point out how the perspectives of community representatives may differ from those of researchers. Hence, the process of understanding and responding to the views of community representatives as described in Chapter 5 is also important for helping researchers clarify their ethical responsibilities.


A variety of study designs are used in housing health hazards research to obtain information on hazards and to test methods to reduce health risks. The study design chosen by researchers depends on the aims of the study, existing knowledge on the topic, and the perceived magnitude of the hazard. Regardless of the specific approach, all study designs should be scientifically and ethically sound. Well-designed and well-executed research is necessary to improve the health of children living in poor-quality housing. For some large-scale intervention studies, the approach might include conducting a small pilot study to minimize the potential for unanticipated negative consequences prior to implementation of the full research project.

At the most basic level, there are observational studies that describe or enumerate specific hazards associated with housing, such as case reports, surveillance by public health agencies, or descriptive studies by researchers. Some observational studies conduct home walk-throughs, others use existing records, reports, and data or conduct telephone or in-person interviews. Some studies include measurements of physical (e.g., radon), chemical (e.g., lead), biological (e.g., cockroach antigens), or psychosocial (e.g., accidents, violence) hazards in homes or neighborhoods. Although causality can generally not be inferred from observational studies, in some instances in which the hazard and remedy are clear, observational studies may be sufficient for devising preventive strategies, as in the case of window guards to prevent falls from windows (see Chapter 2). For many housing-related problems, however, the causal chain between a specific hazard or set of housing conditions and a health outcome is not clear. Observational studies may still be useful in determining if persons with certain baseline characteristics are more likely to experience the outcome of interest.

Even if the causal links between a housing condition and an adverse health outcome are established, however, it may be uncertain how to prevent or remedy the condition. If there are multiple contributing factors, it may not be clear which ones should be targeted for interventions. Studies on asthma in children, for example, indicate that it is associated with multiple indoor pollutants, including settled allergens (cockroach, dust mite, cat and dog), environmental tobacco smoke, and mold or fungi (Institute of

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