asthma

Women Leading the Way

By Lina Younes

Recently, EPA hosted a group of students and professors from the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Public Health. The group was visiting EPA and other agencies in Washington, DC to explore internship and employment opportunities in the federal government. It was exciting to see this group of young well-prepared Latinas ready to join the workforce.

The visiting students and professors met with several Hispanic employees from different EPA program offices. They discussed the work they are currently doing to protect the environment and human health. The employees shared some valuable advice on the skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. Furthermore, they described how they joined the agency. While we had Hispanic scientists, engineers, and lawyers with different areas of expertise, they shared some common experiences. Many had joined the agency through EPA’s internship programs.

The highlight of the afternoon was when Administrator Gina McCarthy and OPM Director Katherine Archuleta met with the visiting group and the employees. Administrator McCarthy emphasized that public health is at the core of EPA’s mission. While describing the work the agency is doing to address health disparities among Hispanics and other minorities, she mentioned the research EPA is conducting on the high incidence of asthma among Puerto Ricans.

During the meeting, Administrator McCarthy stressed the need to have a high-performing workforce that “looked like America” to fulfill the agency’s mission. She encouraged the visiting students to keep their eyes open for future opportunities at the agency.  Director Archuleta echoed her words and urged students to visit OPM’s website for internship and job opportunities throughout the federal government. She recommended that they start by registering in USAJOBS. As they left, I overheard several students saying “I’m going to USAJOBS tonight!”

Personally, I was happy to see many women in leadership positions at the agency as well as a new generation of young Latinas following in our footsteps. In sum, the future is bright for women at EPA.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. 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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Keeping Warm and Cleaning our Air: Public Hearing in Boston on New Wood-Heater Standards

With a New England winter in full bloom, many of us burn wood to help heat our homes. People may not know, however, that burning wood – either in indoor or outdoor heaters – can be inefficient, as well as emit more pollution into the air than oil or natural gas heat sources.

Last month, EPA issued a proposal to update standards for wood-burning stoves and heaters used by people in homes and other residential buildings. We have proposed that, beginning next year (2015), new stoves and heaters will be a whopping 80 percent cleaner than units built and sold today.

This will mean better air quality, and better public health, in communities all across the country. It will improve winter air quality in many parts of New England, especially in rural areas where more people use wood as a fuel source to keep their homes warm. In some areas of New England, especially in valleys, fine particle pollution from wood smoke significantly reduces air quality in winter.

Wood smoke contains fine particles and toxic pollutants, which can reach levels that are harmful to peoples’ health – for your family and for your neighbors. Fine particle pollution is linked to serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Introducing… The Breathe Easies

In my job I don’t usually have the pleasure of introducing rock bands. And, I may not get this chance again. So, today allow me the pleasure of welcoming The Breathe Easies!

The Breathe Easies are an asthma-centric rock band of colorful puppet characters, who are one-of-their-kind originals in the world. They are part of a new PSA campaign we launched today with the Ad Council to help raise awareness of the simple steps parents and young children with asthma can take to help prevent asthma attacks.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Dr. King’s Dream and Environmental Justice

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Reposted from EPA Connect

By Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming

President Obama will mark the anniversary of the March on Washington today at the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic speech 50 years ago.  As we all reflect on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his influence on American society, let’s also celebrate Dr. King’s legacy of social and environmental justice.

Dr. King was a pioneer on many fronts. He fought to raise awareness about urban environmental issues and public health concerns that disproportionately affect communities of color – issues that are still relevant today. We have made tremendous progress in the past 50 years, but our work is not done.

As I reflect on this anniversary, my thoughts go to scripture. I am reminded of the passage from Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

This sentiment of stewardship is what led me to join the Environmental Protection Agency. At the EPA, we work every day to safeguard our environment – the environment with which we have been entrusted – for future generations.

Something we don’t think about often enough is that ensuring basic environmental protections for all is a civil rights issue – one that we have yet to resolve. Our low income and minority neighborhoods suffer disproportionate health impacts, like asthma and heart disease, due to harmful pollution in the air, land and water.

We must work to correct these injustices now as we face one of the great environmental challenges of our time – climate change.

We know that our climate is changing. Extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires, floods and drought are becoming more and more common. And low income neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather because of aging infrastructure and limited means to escape the devastation.  Our nation’s poorest communities are already bearing the brunt of this devastation, and will continue to do so if we don’t act now.

President Obama recently announced a Climate Action Plan that calls for us to work together to improve the resiliency of our communities so that we can provide protection to those who need it most.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, let’s also reflect on Dr. King’s legacy. As Dr. King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must redouble our efforts to protect people’s health and the environment in all of our communities.

About the Author: Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming serves as Chief of Staff to the Administrator. Ms. Fleming was appointed by President Obama as Region 4 (Atlanta) Regional Administrator of the EPA in September 2010, the first African-American to hold this position. Previously, she served as the first African-American and first woman DeKalb County District Attorney and Solicitor General. She was the youngest ever elected as Solicitor General. Ms. Fleming is a New Jersey native and earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Douglass College and she earned her law degree from the Emory University School of Law. Ms. Fleming credits her parents, Ursula Keyes, a retired registered nurse and her late father, Andrew J. Keyes, a former Tuskegee Airman, as the reason for her commitment to community service.

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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Beauty of the Aroma (in the nose of the beholder)

By Amy Miller

You either hate it or you love it. That’s what people say about cilantro (I love it). And root beer (I also love it). And apparently patchouli. (I’ll have to get back to you on that one.)

Even though I came of age in the 60s and 70s, and even though all the other 50-something women were in the know and even though I consider myself well-versed on fashion trends – well, okay, that’s not true – I had no idea of what patchouli was.

Clearly it was a perfume of sorts, a scent. And I got the idea that it was not of the Chanel variety, but rather something for earthier types. But other than that I was in the dark.

Turns out that patchouli oil, which is often used in perfumes, comes from a plant native to southeast Asia. Descriptions range from “musky” or “spicy” to “wet soil.” One friend who is firmly in the “hate it” camp said it “smells like dirt.” All this from an upright, bushy, evergreen with fragrant leaves and violet-dabbed white flowers.

Turns out patchouli isn’t the only scent that can bother people. EPA notes that the perfumes in scented products are complex chemical formulations that may adversely affect the health and/or comfort of others, especially those susceptible to asthma.

The agency has some Ms. Manners advice on avoiding the offending scents without offending the carrier: “Explain that you have adverse reaction to ‘something in the perfume’ rather than saying it’s the perfume that affects you.”

Also turns out the factories that make these complex chemical formulations that become our perfumes are subject to numerous environmental laws. Like any other factory using chemicals, they are regulated by the Clean Air Act; Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know act, and Clean Water Act.

Patchouli actually became known as the hippie scent even before the US EPA was created. But hippies weren’t the first to take it out of the jungle. King Tut was buried with 10 gallons of patchouli oil. The Chinese, Japanese and Arabs thought it had aphrodisiac properties. And clothing sent from Asia was scented with patchouli because the smell supposedly kept away moths. The plant’s been used to treat skin inflammation and scars, headaches, colic, even depression. Today it’s in paper towels, detergents, and air fresheners, as well as perfume.

And after I have whiffed patchouli-infused perfume I will let you know on which side of the fence I sit.

More info: Why EPA doesn’t regulate use of fragrances indoors

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, chicken-eating dog and a great community.

 

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 Not Getting Any Easier for People with Ragweed Pollen Allergies

By Erin Birgfeld

“Close the windows!” my father’s voice boomed through the house. “Are you trying to kill me? I have hay fever, you know!”

Back from college for the summer, I had opened all the windows to enjoy a mild summer day, so rare in the Washington, DC, area. What I had forgotten was that my father has allergies to all types of pollen. So while I enjoyed the fresh breeze, the open windows also let in those tiny pollen grains that tortured him every year. Sure, my dad could be a little overdramatic— hay fever (the common term for allergies to ragweed and other types of pollen) wasn’t going to kill him. But it does cause his seasonal sneezing, watery eyes, and aggravates his asthma.

My father isn’t the only one avoiding the sweet spring and summer breezes. More than half of Americans have at least one allergy, with hay fever accounting for more than 13 million visits to physicians’ offices and other medical facilities every year. One of the most common environmental allergens is ragweed, which can cause hay fever and trigger asthma attacks, especially in children and the elderly.

And unfortunately, the news for those suffering from ragweed allergies isn’t good. It turns out that climate change can have an effect on pollen and allergy season. Warmer spring temperatures cause some plants to produce pollen earlier and to keep producing later into the fall season. Plus, increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations allow ragweed and other plants to produce more pollen overall. That means more pollen for longer periods of the year! Yikes!

EPA’s Indicators of Climate Change Report features data from the National Allergy Bureau that shows that the length of ragweed pollen season has already expanded by 12-26 days in 8 of the 10 cities where data was collected between 1995 and 2011. Interestingly, ragweed pollen season length increased the most in northern latitudes and less in the south. If this trend continues, people allergic to ragweed pollen will have to deal with bothersome symptoms for longer. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Dad, what does this mean for you? Since climate change could prolong allergy season for millions of Americans, it’s probably a good thing you moved to Florida…at least for the sake of your hay fever. The climate change impacts on sea level rise and hurricanes is another story, though.

About the author: Erin Birgfeld is the Communications Director for the Climate Change Division within the Office of Air and Radiation. When she’s not working to protect the environment, Erin enjoys hanging out with her two young children, and doing a bit of swimming and biking when she can find the time.

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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Staying Active with Asthma

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In celebration of Asthma Awareness Month, I thought it would be fun to talk with a student who has asthma herself.  I interviewed Shannyn, an energetic 10 year-old who taught me all about what it is like to have asthma.  Shannyn let me know that she doesn’t let asthma get in the way of her active lifestyle and love of playing outdoors with her sisters and friends. At around age 3, Shannyn experienced her first asthma attack.  She explained to me that an asthma attack is an episode, accompanied by wheezing and coughing, which makes it very difficult to breathe.  Triggers, such as dust, chemicals and seasonal allergies, are things that can provoke the event of an asthma attack.  Lucky enough for this smart girl, she knows to avoid these triggers by staying away from heavy bathroom cleaners and helping her mom to clean the house of dust.  

Asthma doesn’t get in the way of Shannyn’s busy lifestyle.  Her love of running club, tumbling, soccer, kickball and playing in the pool are what keep Shannyn going.  By taking a daily preventative inhaler, she is able to participate in these sports and after school activities.  Shannyn is careful to also carry her rescue inhaler with her when going for runs, in case this physical activity makes her asthma worse.  She let me know that although her asthma can sometimes make it hard to keep up with others when running, that she has a few good friends that will run at a steady pace with her.  I am impressed with all the fun, physical activities this girl does!  When telling me about how she is teaching one of her friends how to do a kart wheel, I asked if she could teach me.  At age 22, I still haven’t picked up how to do a kart-wheel. 

It’s no secret that Shannyn doesn’t let her asthma define how she spends her time and what kinds of activities she does.  By knowing which triggers to avoid, taking the proper medication, and doing routine activities like running club to control her asthma, Shannyn is able to live a very spirited life.  She is looking forward to the summer, where she is planning to spend lots of time swimming in the pool with her two sisters.  She has even started to plan her next birthday party, where she and friends will have a spa day.  Shannyn let me know that asthma doesn’t get in the way of staying active and having fun with friends and family.  She is a role model to people of all ages who have asthma.

Shelby Egan was an extern in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

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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Getting the Right Asthma Care to People Who Need it Most: Recognizing Community Asthma Leaders

By Gina McCarthy

We’ve done quite a bit this May to raise awareness on asthma. As this Asthma awareness month comes to a close, I want to remind folks about the important work that’s going on in communities across the country to help families manage asthma.

Nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by asthma, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), minority children living in poor socioeconomic conditions are at greatest risk.  Poor and minority children are more likely to have asthma and their health outcomes are worse. For example, black children are twice as likely to be hospitalized and four times as likely to die from asthma as white children. The annual economic cost of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days, amounts to approximately $56 billion.

This year’s National Environmental Leadership Award in Asthma Management winners  are all taking steps to address these issues, including finding innovative ways to meet the needs of disproportionately impacted populations. This award is the highest recognition a program and its leaders can receive for delivering excellent environmental asthma management as part of their comprehensive asthma care services.

The 2013 award-winning programs are working in communities to get the right care to some of the people that need it the most, and EPA applauds their innovative approaches and dedication:

Greenville Health System, Greenville, South Carolina: a multidisciplinary, multilingual, family-centered program providing asthma care and management support for over 4,000 children and adolescents with asthma, especially those who have limited access to health care. Their program includes a partnership that provides home visits through a parent-to-parent support network which has led to a 71 percent decrease in urgent health care utilization.

North East Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas: an urban, diversified school district whose Asthma Awareness Education Program targets more than 8,000 students in the district with asthma. This district implements interventions that have resulted in a 70 percent reduction in annual emergency transports to hospitals during the school day.

Parkview Health System, Fort Wayne, Indiana: a nonprofit health care provider addressing the growing incidence of asthma-related illnesses in the urban, suburban and rural populations they serve. An important program component includes their Emergency Department (ED) Asthma Call Back Program that reduced repeat ED visits for asthma from almost 22 percent at baseline to 15 percent in the intervention year.

I want to thank these and the thousands of other organizations that are working to make life better for families and communities across the United States and I look forward to continuing our work together.

I also want to thank the team in our Office of Radiation and Indoor Air for their great work in making Asthma Awareness Month a success. Their efforts are helping to raise public awareness, strengthen partnerships and advance comprehensive asthma management.

Please read more about Asthma Awareness.

About the author: Gina McCarthy is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

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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Equipping Students To Monitor and Improve Their Local Air Quality

By Joni Nofchissey

I live and work in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. It’s a rural place, far away from any big city, and yet, despite the community’s rural setting, the rates of asthma and pulmonary diseases are comparable to those found in highly populated urban areas. In fact, Shiprock Indian Health Service Center sees five times the number of children with upper respiratory health problems than other centers on the Navajo Nation.

Surrounding Shiprock are two large coal-fired power plants and thousands of natural gas wells, each with a diesel engine. During the winter, air pollution is highly visible because thermal inversions trap particulate matter and smog near the ground. You can see this smog, and it’s only made worse by the use of wood and coal stoves in residential homes, which many students at Diné College and families in Navajo Nation depend on for warmth and cooking.

Last year, I co-led an EPA Tribal ecoAmbassadors project with some Diné College professors, staff, and several groups of students to collect and analyze air quality samples collected by M-PODs part of the Mobile Air Quality Sensing System (MAQS)—devices you can wear that collect data on five gases, one of which is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 is produced when natural gas or other fuels undergo incomplete combustion. One of the very useful and fun applications of the MAQS was the Android application and website interactive user-faces developed by University of Colorado Boulder.

At the end of the project, three classes of students were able to use advanced air quality sampling technology to collect and assess the air quality in the Shiprock area, as well as in their homes and schools. What they found was that each of the residences tested exceeded the recommended healthy levels of 0.05 parts per million of NO2 for the sampling period. Further testing showed high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in homes. According to the department of health guidelines for indoor air quality, the recommended range of CO2 concentration indoors is 600–1000 parts per million. In one of the homes tested, the readings were more than five times the maximum recommended healthy range.

While these findings were troubling, I wouldn’t say they were necessarily surprising. Going into the project, we knew there were concerns—we just needed a “from the ground up” way to assess the degree of indoor and outdoor air pollution Shiprock residents faced. Now that a group of Diné students and professors have the ability to do this, we’re placing the emphasis on continued monitoring, awareness, and low-tech solutions like proper ventilation and safe wood-burning practices. To create a greater awareness of the issue, each student shared the results of the data with their families and communities through poster sessions and presentations. Diné College also strengthened partnerships with University of Colorado-Boulder, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and surrounding air quality labs, where students now have access to all kinds of data.

My students even provided insight to the developers of the M-POD and MAQS technology on how to improve the air quality monitors—and stressed the importance of exploring alternative heating sources (such as solar, wind, and biomass) to improve residential air quality in the northern regions of the Navajo reservation in and around Shiprock.

This year, I’m delighted to co-lead a second-year Tribal ecoAmbassador project that will result in a curriculum using these air quality monitoring tools to relate carbon emissions to climate change. DEI Spring interns have been able to use particulate counters “Dust Tracs” to measure levels of 2.5 μ particulate matter (PM2.5) in their families home to create discussion on occupant behavior and PM2.5 levels. In addition to looking at indoor heating behaviors effects on PM2.5 levels, interns also assisted in assessing ambient CO2 levels with readings collected by the Autonomous Inexpensive Robust CO2 Analyzer (AIRCOA) developed and maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). We’re sharing the results through college classroom presentations, college science labs, K-12 hands-on workshops, professional conferences, and community hands-on workshops/seminars/presentations. Something I’ve learned over the last two years is that you can collect all the data in the world, but you’ll never get anywhere on a problem like air quality without the involvement and support of your local community.

I am very excited to start our summer internship which includes two weeks of intensive air quality studies in July with six DEI interns and DEI staff as well. The eight week internship pertaining to environmental science will end with a series of workshops and presentations to community members and K-12 students. The interns will also be very instrumental in providing insight to a meeting regarding another DEI project, the Indoor Stove Coal Use Project.

 About the author: Joni Nofchissey serves as the Environmental Technician of Diné College – Shiprock Campus, Diné Environmental Institute (DEI).  As the co-lead of the Diné College Tribal ecoAmbassador project, she helps interns design studies and analyze data collected with a stationary carbon dioxide monitor developed and maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Asthma: Public Health Issue for Hispanics

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By Fedora Cagnoli Braverman

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español… ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

May is not only the month when April flowers bloom, it’s also Asthma Awareness Month.

According to MedlinePlus en español, asthma is a disease that affects your airways. It causes repeated episodes of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. It is a condition that could go from being a nuisance to extremely serious. If you don’t suffer from it, you probably know somebody who does.

But, why is asthma a public health concern? There are several reasons. Among them, it’s a chronic disease that can worsen the quality of life for the sufferer. Unfortunately, more and more people are being diagnosed with this condition.

For Latinos, though, asthma is a problem that requires attention because statistics show Hispanics are more vulnerable to it. According to the Office of Minority Health, HHS, we are more likely to visit a hospital because of asthma than non-Hispanics. Asthma is also a big problem for our children. Hispanic children are nearly twice as likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic children. Asthma is such an important public health issue that the National Library of Medicine published several pages on its bilingual magazine (where you can see the statistics stated before) about this condition.

As a mom of two, these numbers really caught my attention. Is it possible that genetics makes us such a high risk group? There could be other problems besides genes including access (or often, lack thereof) to health information.

But thanks to years of research, there is a growing awareness about detection and management of asthma. According to EPA, it’s important to know what could trigger asthma (allergies, tobacco smoke, pollution, chemicals, upper respiratory infections, etc.) and to avoid these triggers to prevent symptoms from flaring or worsening.

If you have a small child with asthma, it’s important that you learn how to recognize the symptoms and talk to your health care provider. Otherwise, you could experience what happened to me when my son came running to me saying that his chest hurt and he couldn’t breathe. We rushed to the emergency room only to discover that he gulped too many cheese crackers at once.

Be smart: Know the symptoms, know when to get medical attention in case of an attack and, above all, leave cheese crackers out of children’s reach.

About the author: Fedora Cagnoli Braverman is responsible for developing and maintaining MedlinePlus and  MedlinePlus en español, the government web site for consumer health information in Spanish from the National Library of Medicine – NIH.

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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