Monthly Archives: October 2010

Science Wednesday: Biodiversity and Healthy Ecosystems Underpin Children’s Health

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Montira Pongsiri

I was recently part of a panel discussion at the American Museum of Natural History on the important roles biodiversity and ecosystems play for children’s health and well-being. While there, I had the opportunity to talk about EPA’s work linking ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health.

Although it’s often overlooked, if we want healthy children, we need healthy ecosystems. Natural ecosystems—forests, wetlands, grasslands—provide us with important “services” such as clean water and air, food, and medicine. And biodiversity underpins healthy ecosystems.

Here are just a few examples the United Nations has identified that make biodiversity important for children’s health. Biodiversity:

  • Plays a Crucial Role in Child Nutrition. Sustaining healthy ecosystems helps improve food security and child nutrition, enabling the production of foods, both wild and cultivated
  • Is “Nature’s Medicine Cabinet.” Plants are used to make medicines, soil microbes provide antibiotics, and certain animals are used to study how our bodies work and how to cure disease.
  • Keeps us Fit (and Happy). Want to reduce rates of childhood obesity, lower stress, and improve physical fitness? Get outside! A growing body of research suggests that early positive experiences with nature can benefit health and well-being in the long run
  • Protects Communities. The loss of biodiversity destabilizes ecosystems, weakening their ability to thwart the effects of natural disasters such as floods and wild fires.
  • Keeps Diseases in Check. Biodiversity loss and habitat destruction can increase the incidence and distribution of certain infectious diseases, including malaria which disproportionately affects children.

I’ve previously blogged about EPA work exploring the links between land use change, biodiversity loss, and Lyme disease transmission (for which incidence rates are highest among children).

We’re trying to answer a new question at EPA: how can we manage land to protect human health? EPA-supported studies are fostering transdisciplinary partnerships among ecologists, epidemiologists, urban/suburban land use planners, and local and state governments to plan for new, sustainable risk prevention/reduction strategies at the landscape and household scales.
Working at the interface of ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health requires a strong community at the international, national, state and local levels, and EPA is contributing new science for sustainable tools and solutions to achieve both healthy environments and healthy people—especially children.

About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor. She has blogged about her work studying the links between environmental change, biodiversity, and human health for Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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The New Teen Scene: Leaf Looking!

(c) JVick 2010

(c) JVick 2010

You hear a lot about kids and teens not spending enough time outdoors these days. Teens are constantly “plugged-in” texting and staring at the TV all afternoon, etc. I know when I was growing up we played both outside and inside. This past weekend I was incredibly pleased to see a ton of teens out “leaf looking” at the base of Pikes Peak.

Here in the mountains of Colorado, you always see the “leaf lookers” come out every fall to see the beautiful colors of the changing trees. We always giggle a bit because they are usually older and drive REALLY slow through the mountain roads.

But this year, I was amazed to see how many kids, especially teens, were out enjoying the beautiful fall colors. Teens were running, laughing, taking photos on their phones and sending them to their friends. Nature and texting DO mix!

I think teens and parents hear a lot about getting outside more. I worry it becomes a “to-do-list item” instead of an enjoyable, repeatable experience. So, in my view, let the kids play video games, tweet and text, but balance it out with fun outdoor family or group activities – like going to a favorite hiking trail and seeing all the great fall colors. Make it an annual family event!

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 13 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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Planting Seeds of Good Health

By Christine Zachek

I don’t pretend to have a green thumb, but I accepted the challenge of growing a small tomato plant in my windowsill this summer. It is satisfying to eat something fresh that I grew with my own hands. Consumption of fruits and vegetables are far below what is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines. On average, children consume only 64% of the recommended level of fruit and 46% of the recommended vegetables.

The challenge that many urban communities face is lack of access to affordable healthy foods. USDA estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. These so-called “food deserts” often have more convenience stores and fast-food restaurants than supermarkets or grocery stores. Fresh fruits and vegetables are priced high, if they are available at all.

The point of all this? Lack of healthy choices leads to poor nutrition, with implications being that nearly one out of every three children is overweight or obese. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign calls on the nation to eliminate the problem of childhood obesity in one generation.

My next challenge: cultivating a plot in a community garden.

Community gardens can provide children with good food to combat obesity and they can transform unused vacant lots into positive and productive space, even an oasis for residents to enjoy nature, meet and work together. Care must be taken to ensure that the soil is free from environmental contaminants, so that the food grown there is safe to eat. EPA offers tips and assistance to help communities with this effort. Read more about starting your own community garden.

Planting the seeds of good health and community through urban gardens is a step in the right direction to providing our children with nutritious foods and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

About the author: Christine Zachek works in the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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Hispanic Heritage 2010 – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

By Carmen Torrent

Is the air in your home healthy? Do you know how harmful substances got there and what to do about them? These are important questions to ask. Asthma triggers, mold, radon and secondhand smoke are all known to reduce the quality of indoor air.

As a Latina, one of the most important values for me is my family. I hold close to my heart not only my immediate family, but also my extended family of friends, neighbors and my three dogs.

A healthy family is an important part of our heritage. However, families often don’t know how important good indoor air quality (IAQ) is to their health. My neighbor, whom I love dearly, is a sweet, elderly woman who is mostly home-bound. This is actually not unusual, for the average American spends more than 90 percent of their time indoors. When I found out she has asthma, I helped her identify her triggers. I went through her house with her and pointed out how dust mites, mold and animal dander and other problems can be controlled to help reduce asthma triggers. Now she has an asthma action plan, takes the proper medication, and is controlling the quality of the air in her home. Learn more about those asthma triggers and watch the video “Breathing Freely: Controlling Asthma Triggers.”

Breathing clean air (whether indoors or outdoors) is essential for good health. The first step is to identify the source of pollutants and then take action to resolve any problems. Some key actions we should all take to protect our families include:

  • Get the mold out! Some people, such as infants and children, are especially vulnerable to mold exposure. Fix or eliminate any water problems, clean up the mold and control humidity levels.
  • Test and fix your home from radon. In fact, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. You don’t know if you have a radon problem unless you test your home. Learn about how to get a test kit.

Remember, we can all control the quality of our own indoor air while preserving our heritage and the health of our loved ones.

About the author: Carmen Torrent a public affairs specialist in EPA’s Office of Indoor Air.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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Mes de la Hispanidad y la calidad del aire interior

Por Carmen Torrent

¿Es el aire en su hogar realmente saludable? ¿Sabe usted cómo sustancias dañinas llegan hasta su hogar? Se sabe que los provocadores de asma, el moho, el radón, y el humo de segunda mano reducen la calidad del aire interior.

Como latina uno de los valores más importantes para mí es la familia. Yo guardo muy cerca de mi corazón no tan sólo a mi familia inmediata sino también a todo mi clan familiar incluyendo a mis tres perros.

Una familia saludable es parte importante de nuestra herencia. Sin embargo, las familias no saben cuán importante es para la salud la buena calidad del aire interior.

Mi vecina a quien quiero mucho es una dulce anciana la cual pasa más tiempo dentro de su hogar. Esto no es fuera de lo común pues la mayoría de los estadounidenses pasan más del 90 por ciento en entornos interiores. Cuando supe que ella padecía de asma, la ayude a identificar los provocadores de asma en su hogar. Juntas examinamos detenidamente su casa para reducir el riesgo de sus ataques de asma. Ahora ella tiene un plan de acción para manejar su asma, se toma los medicamentos indicados y está controlando la calidad de aire en su hogar. Conozca cómo usted puede eliminar lo que provoca el asma en su hogar y vea el video Controlando los Factores del Asma .

Respirar aire limpio es esencial para la buena salud. El primer paso a tomar es identificar la fuente de los contaminantes y después tomar acción para resolver cualquier problema. Algunos pasos claves que debemos tomar para proteger a nuestra familia son:

  • Elimine el moho. Algunas personas son especialmente vulnerables al moho. Elimine problemas de agua, limpie el moho y controle los niveles de humedad en su hogar.
  • Haga la prueba de radón y repare su casa. De hecho el radón es la causa número uno de cáncer pulmonar entre los que no fuman. Sólo sabrá si hay radón si hace la prueba. Entérese de cómo conseguir una prueba de radón.

Como parte de mi cultura hispana, la salud y la familia son muy importantes para mí. Recuerde que nosotros podemos controlar la calidad del aire interior y preservar nuestro patrimonio mientras preservamos la salud de nuestros seres queridos.

Sobre la autor: Carmen Torrent es especialista de relaciones públicas en la Oficina de Aire Interior de EPA.

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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Have Some Common “Cents”

Click for info on Region 3's WaterSenseLetting warm water run from a faucet for five minutes is equivalent to running a 60-watt light bulb for 14 hours. What’s more, a five minute shower can use as much as ten gallons of water! This may sound surprising, yet it illustrates the overwhelming necessity and benefits of water efficiency. Many Americans know about the importance of saving water and saving energy, but few know the direct connection between saving both.

Launched in 2006, WaterSense, a voluntary partnership and labeling program sponsored by the EPA, set out to reduce municipal water use across the country by advocating water efficient products and practices. Products that have earned the WaterSense label are certified by an independent third party to be at least 20% more efficient than similar products in the marketplace. WaterSense labeled products are a simple way for consumers to identify products that save water without sacrificing performance or quality.  Consumer or manufacturer, municipality or private water system, WaterSense aims to:

• Decrease indoor and outdoor non-agricultural water use through more efficient products, services, and practices;
• Help consumers make water-efficient choices, including differentiating between products and services in the marketplace while ensuring product performance;
• Promote simple daily activities that reduce water use;
• Encourage innovation in manufacturing; and
• Develop rigorous certification criteria that ensure product testing, efficiency, and performance.Just think. By implementing a few small changes to your daily routine, you are not only saving water and money – you are preserving water supplies for generations to come.

Local water utilities have been very supportive in the development of the WaterSense program.  Utilities are encouraged to partner with WaterSense and use the program as part of their local water efficiency and conservation efforts. EPA Region 3 welcomes new partners to the WaterSense program including manufacturers, retailers and distributors, local and state governments, utilities, water districts, trade associations, nonprofits, certified irrigation professionals, professional certifying organizations, licensed certification providers, and builders.

Do you have any WaterSense labeled products? Use this product search to find more. Have you recognized strong support for the cause in your area and want to learn more? Contact Ramon Albizu, Region 3 WaterSense Liaison, albizu.ramon@epa.gov or Alysa Suero, suero.alysa@epa.gov . Visit here to get more information about WaterSense in the Mid-Atlantic region

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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Science Wednesday:Children’s Health and Sustaining Our Future

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Paul Anastas, Ph.D.

Last week, I had the pleasure of conducting a green chemistry experiment with some students who joined me at the Marian Koshland Science Museum here in Washington, DC. We were helping to kick off events leading up to the USA Science and Engineering Festival that will take place on the National Mall October 23 and 24.

The festival organizers could not have picked a more appropriate time to celebrate science and engineering in a way that will spark kid’s interest. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to reflect on the importance of building a sustainable society for our children.

There was a time when it was commonly assumed that the lives of one generation would be no different than the lives of the next—that the status quo would be maintained. Over time, however, people came to understand that we could work to make our children’s lives even better than our own.

It was advancements in science and technology that catalyzed this change in thinking. But it turned out it was not so simple. We now know that many of the same technologies and advancements that were meant to improve the lives of future generations were also adversely impacting the environment, and could even have unintended consequences on children.

Children’s Health Month is an opportune time to ask ourselves a vital question: have we incorporated an understanding of these unintended consequences into the design of new products and technologies?

Today we have the opportunity to couple our expertise in understanding the problems we face with an ability to design next-generation chemicals that reduce hazard. The principles of green chemistry give us this opportunity.

We must combine the best of our intellect and action to design a tomorrow that is sustainable for our children.  We must direct our highest degree of knowledge toward producing products and technologies that won’t impair reproduction or development.

It’s time to bring all we have to bear on the design of a sustainable tomorrow. There is no better time to start than Children’s Health Month.

About the author: Paul T. Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. At the time President Barrack Obama nominated him to, Anastas was the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale University.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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Children’s Health Month – How are you Celebrating?

fall-leaves.2By Stacy Murphy

October brings to mind different images for different people: bright fall colors; crispy nights,  packing away summer clothes and pulling out jackets and sweaters. But to me it also means one more important thing: Children’s Health Month.

Children’s health is my #1 priority and the reason that I come to work every day.  Indoor and environmental air quality is a big health issue for kids, since they spend most of their time indoors. Even normal outdoor kid activities, like sports or playing outside, can expose them to many environmental health hazards.

Here in Region 6 we have a lot of great Children’s Health Month programs planned, including our showcase event where a cross-agency team will provide education on pesticide safety and asthma management to migrant farm worker families at Dia de los Migrantes in San Juan, Texas.

But you don’t have to be an “expert” to carry the message of protecting kids from harm to your community. That’s the beauty of the Children’s Health Program. Anyone can take action to promote children’s health. For example, you could provide local organizations, like non-profits or faith-based groups, with information about how kids are affected by indoor and environmental air quality. You can access educational materials for free on the Children’s Health Month section of the EPA website.

Although October is officially Children’s Health Month, EPA really works to protect children’s health year-round. For example, the IAQ Tools for Schools program supports children in schools by maintaining safe and healthy learning environments, which can significantly impact achievement. Each January the IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium provides an amazing opportunity to learn strategies and tactics to improve student and staff health, as well as reduce absenteeism, increase student and staff performance and enhance community relations. Everyone from the IAQ novice to national experts can benefit from attending the symposium. I’ll be there and I hope to see you there too.

About the author: Stacy Murphy joined EPA in 2005 and currently serves as the Schools Coordinator for EPA Region 6 where he manages programs to improve school indoor environments, including IAQ Tools for Schools and the Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign (S3C).

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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When You’ve Got a Case of the Blues…See a Specialist…a Prairie Dog!

By Wendy Dew

This past weekend I was feeling a bit blue. So what would any red-blooded American, 30-something female do? I decided to go shopping! On the way to my favorite shopping area there is a super busy intersection where right nearby, believe it or not – a prairie dog colony lives (I know – only in Colorado!). At the intersection there is a large “park and ride” parking lot and a hilly field with tons of prairie dog mounds all over it. I have passed by the area hundreds of times and always try and get a peek at the prairie dogs.

As I headed to the shopping area, I decided to go to the “park and ride” and watch the prairie dogs for a while. The prairie dogs were running, eating, playing and making the funniest little squeaks and peeps. The sun was low in the sky and the field was lit up with golds, oranges and yellows. It was breathtaking! All in the middle of a busy urban area.

Prarie-DogsSitting there watching nature at its best put a really big smile on my face. The antics of the funny little prairie dogs made me laugh and chased my blues away. I think so many of us have forgotten the healing power of our own environment. I think it is so important that kids get exposure to nature, even in little ways, so they can learn to turn to nature when they need a little pick me up.

Well, of course I did go shopping and had a great time! But, when I look back on this day I will remember the nutty little prairie dogs and how they made me smile. I doubt I will remember anything I purchased that day.

About the author: Wendy Dew has been with EPA for 14 years and is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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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Nothing Says “Fun” Like Standardized Tests: Creating Healthy Environments to Help Students Succeed

By Cathy Davis

When I was about eight years old, I actually loved standardized tests. (Trust me, I know that’s strange.) My dad developed the student assessment program for the state board of education. He loved his job, and I loved hearing about it, so I loved standardized tests. He used to tell me about all the different factors outside a student’s innate ability that could affect their scores: having nutritious meals, family stability and support, family income, having a safe place to study and read, and so many other social and economic factors.

What I’ve learned since then is that there is growing evidence that the environment where children learn can also affect their achievement (see Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits ). When schools have good indoor air quality, safe chemicals management programs (including pesticides and other chemicals), safe drinking water, and well-maintained facilities, the students are better learners. They don’t miss as much school, and it’s easier for them to pay attention when they’re in school. But many school buildings contain environmental conditions that may inhibit learning and pose increased risks to the health of children and staff.

Creating healthy school environments can seem like a daunting task. There are over 120,000 schools in the country, and there are many potential environmental hazards. But I think the benefits to children’s health now and their success in the future far outweigh the short-term cost and effort. EPA has many programs and tools that parents, teachers, and school administrators can use to improve the environmental health of schools. So here’s my question to you, which of these programs (or similar programs run by your state or community) are you going to put into action to make your community’s schools healthier places to learn?

Learn how you to promote healthy communities for healthy children, during Children’s Health Month and every month, at www.epa.gov/children.

About the author: Cathy Davis works on healthy schools and other children’s environmental health issues in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection. She comes from a family of educators (and a couple of lawyers).

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.