Monthly Archives: May 2010

Talking Asthma for the Science Notebook

When I sat down at the microphone I took a deep breath and was immediately thankful I don’t suffer from asthma: that I could take a deep breath. Sometimes being a science communicator means lending your vocal talents to the cause, even when you don’t think your vocal chords sound all that pleasing to the ear.

But this is for science and getting the word out. Okay, I’m in.

I was hosting the “EPA’s Coordinated Approach” podcast for the Science Notebook: Asthma. So there I was, sitting in the EPA studio’s recording booth next to Alisa Smith of the Office of Air and Radiation. Joining us via the phone from EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, were Susan Stone, also from the Office of Air and Radiation, and Dan Costa, EPA’s National Program Director for Clean Air Research.

After a quick sound check from each of us we went straight into the discussion: what asthma is, how EPA research is offering promising insights into the disease, the connection between air pollution and tools such as the Air Quality Index (AQI) and how they can help you understand what local air quality means to your health and asthma management. We jammed a lot of info into 11 minutes!

Explore the additional podcasts on the Science Notebook including those with:

  • Martha Sue Carraway, an EPA medical officer and scientist discusses her investigations into the respiratory and cardiovascular effects of air pollution exposure in older adults with asthma.
  • EPA health scientist Lucas Neas talks about his work on the Inner City Asthma Study, which evaluated the health benefits of feasible changes in the home environment of inner city children with moderate to severe asthma.
  • Marsha Ward, an EPA scientist, talks about the role of mold in asthma incidence alongside a slide show.

Check out the wealth of science information in the Notebook, scientific posters on EPA asthma research, videos and PSAs – information that can help you or someone you care about ward off an asthma attack. Be sure to take the quizzes “What Triggers Asthma Attacks?” and “Who’s Got Asthma?” and “It Takes A Village” — use the comments section below to let us know how you did and what you learned!

About the Author: Melissa-Anley Mills is the news director for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She joined the Agency in 1998 as a National Urban Fellow.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Science Wednesday are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: How have modern events inspired you to make personal changes?

Forty years ago, events like the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River catching on fire mobilized a massive public reaction, resulting in the first Earth Day and the creation of EPA.

How have modern events inspired you to make personal changes?


Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pregunta de la Semana: ¿Acaso los eventos modernos le han inspirado a hacer cambios personales y de qué manera?

Hace cuarenta años, eventos como el derrame de petróleo de Santa Bárbara y el hecho de que el río Cuyahoga se encendiera en llamas generaron una reacción pública masiva que resultó en el primer Día del Planeta Tierra y la creación de la EPA.

¿Acaso los eventos modernos le han inspirado a hacer cambios personales y de qué manera?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Online Resources: Response to the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Since the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, 2010, we’ve mobilized resources to support the U.S. Coast Guard and protect public health and the environment.  Our Emergency Operations Center at headquarters has been activated, trained EPA responders are working on the scene, and special mobile equipment has been sent to the Gulf area.

We have several online resources available:

1) We’re posting updated data and other information on our BP oil spill site (www.epa.gov/bpspill):

  • Get air quality and water data
  • Find answers to common questions
  • Submit technology solutions

2) Connect with us on social media sites:

  • Administrator Jackson’s personal account of the response to the oil spill: Facebook and Twitter
  • EPA’s announcements about our response: Facebook and Twitter

3) Get email updates

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You can also visit the coordinated government response site (www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com) for:

  • Information about the spill and efforts to stop the oil from flowing
  • Hotlines to report oil on land or injured wildlife
  • Details of how you can volunteer

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s Raining Flowers, So Hold Your Water

Beneficial uses of Rain Gardens

Beneficial uses of Rain Gardens

On my block, you’ll know if we had a good rain if the river of water along the street curbs and sidewalks is heading to the corner storm drain. Heck, why waste that water when I can keep it on my property and grow a lovely rain garden. I planted one in 2009. It’s a modest little rain-sucker, but one that at least showed I cared. It makes good sense to plant a rain garden and take other steps to contain rainwater on your property and to do more for the environment with these tips. How does a rain garden work? The soil and plants absorb the water and filter pollution. The garden slows down and reduces the volume of rainfall runoff before it enters the drain, but doesn’t pond since it’s quick draining. The water from your roof, driveway and sidewalk collects fertilizers, pet waste, oil and other pollutants as it runs off into the nearest storm drain and out into your local river or stream. Rain gardens are just one way to contain runoff and protect your streams and rivers. You can find more suggestions here. Have you planted a rain garden, installed a rain barrel or taken other steps to reduce runoff? If so, let us know how you’re doing in holding your water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Health Disparities and Asthma

As I was preparing for an interview for Spanish language radio on asthma awareness, I came across some worrisome statistics. There is a higher incidence of asthma among poor and minority children, particularly those of African American descent and Puerto Rican origin. In fact, Puerto Rican children (born on the Island or the mainland) have the highest rates of asthma at 20% while Mexican-American children have a 7% rate of asthma. Those statistics made me think of my own childhood. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I remember having relatives and friends who had asthma. I recall their stories of sleepless nights being unable to breathe. However, when I went to college on the mainland, I don’t remember any of my friends every mentioning anything about asthma. Now that I look back, the contrast is striking.

Asthma is a chronic pulmonary disease affecting 23 million people in the United States. This disease affects the quality of life of asthma patients and, if not managed correctly, it can be life-threatening. Whether it’s due to health illiteracy or lack of health care, some minority asthma patients do not always seek adequate care in a timely fashion. All too often, these patients resort to emergency rooms with full fledged asthma attacks, attacks that could have been prevented with proper asthma care. Furthermore, health disparities become even more evident when we talk about deaths due to asthma. For example, African-American children have a 500% higher mortality rate from asthma as compared with Caucasian children.

EPA has made an effort to educate the public on the environmental triggers that can trigger asthma attacks. These environmental triggers in indoor surroundings may include secondhand smoke, dust mites, cockroaches, pet fur or dander, household pests, mold, to name a few. Outdoor triggers include high levels of air pollution and pollen. It’s important to talk to your physician to learn what triggers your asthma attacks. If you or your child has asthma, ask your doctor to help create an Asthma Action Plan to prevent asthma attacks. Furthermore, eliminate potential asthma triggers from your home. With increased awareness, asthma patients and their families should be able to manage the disease.

To learn more successful approaches to asthma care, join community leaders and policy makers at the 2010 National Asthma Forum in Washington, DC next month.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Disparidades de salud y el asma

Mientras me preparaba para una entrevista de radio sobre la concienciación acerca del asma, descubrí unas estadísticas preocupantes. Hay una mayor incidencia de asma entre los niños de bajos ingresos y de grupos étnicos minoritarios especialmente aquellos de origen afroamericano y puertorriqueño. De hecho, los niños puertorriqueños (nacidos en la Isla o en el continente) tienen los niveles de incidencia de asma del 20% mientras que los niños de origen mexicano tienen una incidencia del 7%. Estas estadísticas me hicieron pensar en mi niñez. Cuando vivía en Puerto Rico, me acuerdo de parientes y amistadas que tenían asma. Me contaban que muchas veces tenían que pasar las noches en vela o en el hospital porque no podían respirar. Sin embargo, cuando vine al continente estadounidense a estudiar en la universidad, no me acuerdo que ninguna de mis amistades mencionara que padecían esta enfermedad. Ahora que miro hacia esa época, el contraste es chocante.

El asma es una enfermedad pulmonar crónica que afecta 23 millones de personas en los Estados Unidos. Esta enfermedad afecta la calidad de vida de los asmáticos, y si no se maneja correctamente, puede costarle la vida a los que la padecen. Sea por la falta de conocimientos de la enfermedad o la falta de cuidado médico, algunos pacientes minoritarios no reciben el cuidado médico adecuado. Con demasiada frecuencia, estos pacientes recurren a las salas de emergencia cuando tienen un ataque asmático en pleno apogeo, ataques que pudieron haber sido evitados con el plan de acción debido. Asimismo, las disparidades de salud se hacen aún más evidentes cuando hablamos acerca de las muertes ocasionadas por el asma. Por ejemplo, los niños de origen africano tienen una tasa de mortandad por asma 500% mayor que los niños blancos de origen caucásico.

La Agencia de Protección Ambiental ha hecho un esfuerzo por educar al público sobre los desencadenantes medioambientales que provocan ataques de asma. Estos desencadenantes ambientales en entornos interiores pueden incluir el tabaquismo pasivo, los ácaros de polvo, las cucarachas, la lana o caspa de mascotas, plagas caseras, el moho, entre otros. Algunos desencadenantes en ambientes exteriores incluyen altos niveles de contaminación atmosférica y el polen. Es importante hablar con su médico para aprender qué desencadena sus ataques de asma. Si usted o su niño tiene asma, consulte con su médico para ayudar a crear un Plan de Acción de Asma para evitar ataques de asma. Además, elimine los desencadenantes potenciales de ataques en su hogar para mejorar su calidad de vida.

Para aprender más acerca de enfoques exitosos para el cuidado del asma, únase a líderes comunitarios y personas responsables de política pública en el Foro Nacional del Asma del 2010 que se efectuará en Washington, DC el mes próximo.

Sobre la autor: Lina M. F. Younes ha trabajado en la EPA desde el 2002 y está a cargo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre Comunicaciones Multilingües. Como periodista, dirigió la oficina en Washington de dos periódicos puertorriqueños y ha laborado en varias agencias gubernamentales.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Take Action, Get Healthy – Help Control Asthma

May is Asthma Awareness Month and this month serves as a rally point for our work to help people with asthma live full and active lives.

AAM-Blog-Image_Alisa-SmithAsthma is not going away – nearly 23 million people suffer from this chronic disease and more than 7 million are children. This alarming statistic reminds me why asthma awareness is so imperative and the importance of my role in helping asthma sufferers live a healthier, active lifestyle.

I first became interested in public health policy about eight years ago. From my research at the University of Virginia, I knew indoor allergens affected asthma. However, as the rate of asthma continued to rise, I wanted to take this research and move it into practice – to increase public awareness and create actionable strategies that help get asthma under control. Now, as a member of the EPA Asthma Team, I am dedicated to helping people avoid the indoor triggers that make asthma worse.

Environmental asthma triggers can cause asthma symptoms such as coughing or wheezing, and even more severe problems, such as an asthma attack. Common triggers include secondhand smoke, allergens from animal dander, dust mites, molds, and pests such as cockroaches and mice. Since we spend the majority of our time inside, at home, at school, or at work, indoor triggers are a serious risk for most people with asthma. For children, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness.

Do you or someone you know have asthma?

  • Learn more about asthma symptoms, environmental triggers, prevention steps, and resources to help deal with asthma.
  • Locate a local community awareness event and get directly involved!
  • Encourage your child’s doctor, school nurse, teacher, and other asthma advocate in your community to learn more about their role in asthma management at the 2010 National Asthma Forum.
  • Make changes in the home environment. Take the smoke-free home pledge to help create healthy, smoke free environments.

Although we still don’t know how to cure asthma, we do know what it takes for people with asthma to live a full and active lifestyle. We use all the tools we have – air quality regulations, research, and education – and it’s rewarding to be part of that effort at EPA. What action will you take this month to help get asthma under control?

About the author: Alisa Smith is a biologist with the Indoor Environments Division’s Asthma Education and Outreach Program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Administrator Jackson: Dispatches from the Gulf Coast

Blog from Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at 7:17 p.m. Saturday, May 1.

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Administrator Jackson thanks volunteers

Steel toe boots.

Fishermen, shrimpers and other men and women of the Gulf community turned out in droves. I met them at community centers, churches and city hall. They all had one question: how can I help?

The fishermen at Shell Beach said they’d do anything to head out and lay boom. They wanted to help right now. Their way of life was on the line. But, some said they hit a peculiar roadblock: their shoes. Yes. You read correctly.

Fishermen were told they could not take part in efforts to lay boom unless they wore steel toe boots. That is absurd.

These men and women have spent their lives on these waters. They know them better than anyone and don’t need anybody’s steel toe boots to sail them now. Especially when so much is at stake.

A simple phone call to BP fixed this problem. Footwear should absolutely not impede the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who want to save their way of life.

Workplace safety is terribly important. But it’s unacceptable to tell men and women, who know these seas like the back of their hands, that they can’t help lay boom because of their footwear.

This seems to be an easy fix. Other problems in this complex situation won’t be so simple. But it shows that a desire to put problem solving above process is critical as we address this environmental challenge of the highest order.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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