Children’s Health Month

‘Dr. Lowry, I read on the internet that I shouldn’t feed my child rice cereal. Is this true?’

Introduction by LaTonya Sanders

October is Children’s Health Month. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics established October as Child Health Month in order to focus national attention on children’s health issues. This month and throughout the year, EPA works with parents, teachers, health providers and other partners to promote healthy environments where children live, learn and play.

Only through partnerships and collaboration can we make a difference and leverage the needed resources and support to guard all children against environmental health threats.

PEHSUEPA is proud to partner with people and organizations that are on the forefront in protecting children’s health and the environment, which is consistently true for Dr. Jennifer Lowry and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Dr. Lowry is a crucial partner to EPA, and her work is instrumental in creating a healthier future for our children.

By Jennifer Lowry, MD

Jennifer Lowry, MDPediatricians love children. We love helping children become the best people they can be. We love doing what is needed to make the world a better place for children to be healthy.

What pediatricians don’t love is being caught unaware of the latest blog, internet chat, or media storm regarding environmental health issues. Media and other news outlets often inform parents of possible environmental exposures that can cause harm to children.

Unfortunately, not all of the information is true, which causes undo concern for parents and confusion to pediatricians who are asked about these effects.

A World of Stuff

What is a pediatrician or family to do? It is important to realize we are surrounded by stuff. We, or the people who have come before us, have made choices that puts stuff in our world that is supposed to make things “better” or “easier.” Unfortunately, not all of the stuff we encounter fits both descriptions.

Cell phones, plastics, better beef, lead in paint, and synthetic athletic fields are just a few examples that may make life easier, but might not (or definitely not in some cases) make life better. But today, everywhere you turn, someone is saying our children’s lives are being damaged by the chemicals we have in the environment. Is this true?

A Matter of the Dose

As a toxicologist, I have been taught “Everything is a poison. It is just a matter of the dose.” Paracelsus was a Swiss-German Renaissance physician, botanist, alchemist, astrologer and general occultist. Born in 1493, he founded the discipline of toxicology. Paracelsus rejected the medical conditions of the time, and pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. He is credited with the phrase “the dose makes the poison,” but is also known to have said: If given in small doses, “what makes a man ill also cures him.” Thus, he realized medicines can be beneficial at low doses, but cause harm at higher doses.

Paracelsus, founder of toxicology

Paracelsus, founder of toxicology

But what about chemicals and metals, both synthetic and natural? What about plants? Is it true there is no harm at low levels? Well, it depends. Medications used to treat illnesses are rigorously tested for safety and efficacy. Chemicals used in the environment are not. Alternative medications (dietary supplements) are not.

We know some medications have benefits at very low doses (micrograms), but can cause toxicity at the milligram dose (or 1,000 times the microgram dose). Some medications have no efficacy at the milligram dose and require much higher doses (grams or 1000 times the milligram dose) to have effect.

Why would we expect plants, supplements, chemicals or metals to be any different? Each chemical is different and has a different profile for efficacy and toxicity. Some chemicals (botulinum toxin, for example) are toxic at even lower doses. Unfortunately, we are finding out doses that were presumed safe were really not safe to begin with.

Arsenic and Lead

Chemical symbols for arsenic and lead

Chemical symbols for arsenic and lead

At one time, we erroneously thought because arsenic was “natural,” it could be placed in soil as a pesticide. However, arsenic is relatively immobile so anything that grows where it was placed (such as rice fields) can incorporate it into the food. Thus, higher levels of arsenic are found in foods grown where arsenic was used.

The same is true about lead. Pediatricians know that children are not little adults. But the level associated with toxicity in adults was applied to children early in the 1900s. However, it was soon realized children were more vulnerable and action was required at lower levels. Lead has not become more toxic over time. Our recognition of the toxicity of lead has changed for us to realize that even low levels of blood lead may result in harm.

So What Do We Do?

Can a 6-month-old child eat rice cereal? YES. Should they only eat rice cereal? NO. Does it have to be the first cereal they eat? NO. Can my teenager have a cell phone? YES. Should they be on it all the time? NO. Should they carry it in their pants or in their bra? NO. Should an infant or toddler play with a cell phone or tablet as their entertainment? NO.

How do you discover these answers? Great resources are available to help you sort this out:

  • Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs) – Staffed by health care professionals who are experts in pediatric environmental health, they can help to best inform health care providers and the public on how to keep children safe from environmental toxins.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics – Through the Council on Environmental Health, health care professionals can learn about the latest science on pediatric environmental health and how to incorporate this knowledge into their practice. This website is a great resource for families to find out what experts in children advise.
  • Poison Control Centers – Staffed by health care professionals, they are best able to help you with acute exposures. Some PEHSUs collaborate with poison control centers. Call 1-800-222-1222.

Lastly, be smart. Do you really need that stuff? Do you really need to throw it away? Reduce, reuse and recycle. It is easy to blame others before us for where we are now. But who will our children blame with what we leave them?

About the Introducer: LaTonya Sanders serves as the children’s health coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kan. Her EPA career expands over 20 years in public affairs, communications, outreach, education and congressional relations.

About the Author: Jennifer Lowry, MD, is the medical director of the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, among several other prestigious titles. She served on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee from 2012 to 2014.

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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Lessons for Students – and the Rest of Us

by Tom Damm

children's healthOctober is Children’s Health Month, an ideal time to check out EPA’s Student Curriculum: Recipes for Healthy Kids and a Healthy Environment.

This nine-lesson program is available to teachers to help students (ages 9-13) appreciate and explore the environments in which they live and play.  Each 45-minute lesson provides basic information on a particular topic and offers ways for students and their families to reduce their environmental risks.

So, you think you’re smarter than a 9-13 year old?  Here’s what you’re up against on water issues:

The “Keeping All of Our Waterways Clean“ lesson helps children understand the importance of water in their lives and describes the life cycle of freshwater.  It also discusses how to keep trash from getting in storm drains and polluting waterways.

After learning the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define rainwater runoff, drainage pollution, freshwater, saltwater and potable;
  • Name three different types of waterways;
  • Explain three ways to stop drainage pollution; and
  • Explain how keeping our waterways clean benefits the entire community.

And then there’s the “Healthy Water Inside” lesson.  It focuses on water safety and conservation, and teaches how to avoid mold and mildew at home.

Our water wizards will be able to:

  • Define mold, mildew and fluoride;
  • List three ways to stop mold and mildew from growing;
  • Explain how water is treated; and
  • Explain some ways to conserve water at home.

Want to go to the head of the class?  Check out the materials in all nine lessons and test your knowledge on issues of concern to all of us – from climate change to household hazards.  And if you’re a scout leader or an instructor in another setting, use the lessons to help your kids become more environmentally savvy.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

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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Reflections on Children’s Health Month: Looking Back to Move Ahead

By Ruth Etzel, MD

In October we celebrated Children’s Health Month. As I reflect on the month, I think of the many exciting events and activities that highlighted the importance of our work to protect children’s health. One event in particular, a meeting of The President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children (Task Force), stands out in my mind. Not because it was the biggest or the most visible, but because of who attended and what their participation and leadership means for the health of our nation’s children.

The Task Force was established in 1997 by Executive Order 13045 and is co-chaired by Administrator Gina McCarthy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Task Force’s 17 member agencies and offices work to accomplish the goals set out by the Executive Order, including:

  • Identifying priority risks and issues
  • Developing strategies
  • Recommending and implementing interagency actions
  • Communicating information to decision makers for use in protecting children’s environmental health and safety

The Task Force accomplishes its activities through four subcommittees focused on asthma disparities, healthy settings, chemical risks, and climate change. Recent achievements of the Task Force include the development of a Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities aimed at reducing the burden of asthma among minority children and those with family incomes below the poverty level; guidance to the Federal Healthy Homes Work Group in the development of its plan, “Advancing Healthy Housing — A Strategy for Action”; and consulting on the impacts of climate change on children’s environmental health, to inform the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate and Health Assessment.

At the October 14 meeting, representatives from eighteen different government agencies and offices participated and discussed their commitments related to work of the subcommittees and other children’s environmental health topics. In a time where government agencies have such varying priorities and limited resources to address the growing number of public concerns and challenges, I was proud to see that children’s health is one issue that remains a priority. Having so many different federal agencies come together to weigh-in, share accomplishments and recommit to continuing to work around this issue is a testament to how critically important children’s environmental health is at a national level. One of the highlights of the meeting was the level of support and commitment to the Task Force’s next unified goal: a new work plan to guide the group’s efforts over the next year and into the future. This product is currently in the development phase and I’m looking forward to being able to share more information with federal partners as it is finalized early next year.

This meeting reminded me of why I chose public service: to be part of an integrated and sustained effort to ensure that all children, regardless of where they live, have the opportunity to live, learn, work and play in healthy environments that enable them to reach their full potential.

As we move beyond Children’s Health month, I’m hopeful that our partnerships with other federal agencies and colleagues in communities across the nation will continue to flourish. There is still much work to be done. By working together, we can continue make the environment a better place for the next generation.

For more information about the Task Force, visit: http://www2.epa.gov/children/presidents-task-force-environmental-health-and-safety-risks-children

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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Don’t be SCARED to save water and energy with WaterSense!

by Kimberly Scharl

halloween Water SenseIs Halloween on your mind this week?  It’s okay to be scared at the thought of ghosts and goblins running around, but a truly frightful sight is your electric bill driven higher by wasteful water use.

October is National Energy Action Month, and even though you may not realize it, it takes a lot of energy to provide clean water.  Energy is needed to move every gallon of water you use in your home, office, or school from its source to a treatment plant, and through water pipes to your house.  The work doesn’t stop there!  If you need hot water, it takes energy to warm it up before it hits the tap.

Water may seem like an inexpensive resource, but the more water you use, the more energy you use, too.  That’s why it’s so important to conserve water and why we encourage you to “shower better” during the month of October and all-year-round!

Showering is one of the leading ways Americans use water in the home, accounting for nearly 17% of indoor water use.  You can shower better by replacing your old showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model that saves water, energy and money while performing as well as a standard model.  By replacing just one showerhead with a WaterSense labeled model, EPA estimates the average family can save 2,900 gallons of water, enough electricity to power a home for 13 days, and more than $70 in energy and water costs every year.

October is also  Children’s Health Month and a great time to talk to your kids about becoming “green goblins” by conserving water.  Check out WaterSense for kids for games and activities to get them in on the water-saving action.  You can search for WaterSense-labeled products – including showerheads – and more on EPA’s WaterSense website. Shower better with WaterSense and your water use can be one less thing to be scared of this Halloween!

 

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to the mid-Atlantic region from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the regional liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

 

 

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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Newburgh, NY Takes Action to Reduce Lead Poisoning of Children

By Judith A. Enck

Staff from the EPA and the New York State Department of Health worked with the public through a SoilSHOP to address lead in soil.

Staff from the EPA and the New York State Department of Health worked with the public through a SoilSHOP to address lead in soil.

October is Children’s Health Month, but we should prioritize our children’s health every month of the year. As a mom, my son’s health isn’t something I consider annually or monthly, but daily. Even now that my son is grown, his health is still my main concern.

One of the greatest environmental threats impacting kids today is lead. Lead is a neurotoxin. Even at low levels, exposure to lead paint impairs a child’s ability to learn. It reduces IQ and can cause hearing problems. It can also cause a range of learning disabilities.

EPA Region decided to take action to work with the City of Newburgh to address the exposure to lead from different sources. In January 2014, Congressmember Sean Maloney and I hosted a round-table discussion with the “Lead Safe Newburgh Coalition,” an organization of people from different sectors involved in the effort to solve Newburgh’s lead problem.

This group has already achieved some of its major milestones. A major source of exposure to lead for children is from paint. The Coalition has taken steps to test and address these sources.

Additionally, we’ve tested blood lead levels in children in Newburgh. In April and October 2014, EPA worked with the Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center to provide free blood lead screening in a mobile health unit.

The Coalition took a page from the EPA handbook, establishing programs to test soil and water for elevated lead levels. SoilSHOPs, a community-based soil sampling program, has provided free soil sampling for schools and residences.

The Coalition also launched the EPA program, 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools Guidelines, which provides three services: (1) education on the sources and health effects of lead, (2) testing water samples, and (3) sharing the results with the public. Through this program, EPA tested water sources at the Head Start of Eastern Orange and taps at Newburgh Enlarged City School District. More than 500 drinking water outlets were sampled for lead in the drinking water. Based on assessed need, taps were flushed, filtered, and upgraded with new plumbing. Because children spend the majority of their time in school, it is vital that we test these locations. By providing this service, we help schools take charge to create safe environments for children to learn.

Effective collaboration among many has revitalized the community. As EPA Regional Administrator, I am proud that EPA has worked hard to make Newburgh a healthier place to live.

During Children’s Health Month, we have the opportunity to ensure the health and safety of our children by working hard to provide a clean environment where they can learn and play.

About the Author: Judith Enck is Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers New York, Eight federally-recognized Indian Nations, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

 

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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A Child’s Health Scare during Children’s Health Month

By Elias Rodriguez

EPA Asthma An alarming text came in over a recent weekend, my young niece was being taken to the emergency room by her parents due to a serious episode of asthma. She was treated and released, but was distressingly back in the hospital the next day when the health situation became exacerbated. Asthma can be fatal.

Asthma triggers include pets, pesticides, dust mites, mold and secondhand smoke. Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot) and ozone (smog) are major asthma triggers. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or medication.

When she had fully recovered, I asked my niece for any tips she would like to offer other kids. She noted the changing weather. “Take care of yourself,” she offered while acknowledging that having an Asthma Action Plan was an important message for everyone.

EPA highly recommends that folks create an Asthma Action Plan. You can help avoid the emergency room by managing your asthma daily. With a doctor’s help, you should create an asthma action plan to help you effectively manage your asthma and reduce exposure to triggers.

We hope you heed the tips from Children’s Health Month  this October.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

 

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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Protecting Children from Environmental Health Risks

By Khesha Reed

EPA’s responsibility to protect public health and the environment is driven in large part by our duty to protect our kids. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to make sure we’re doing all we can individually and as an agency to protect children from the environmental health risks they face.

Children are not little adults. They have different activity patterns, physiology, and susceptibility to environmental stressors than adults do. Kids eat, breathe, and drink more relative to their body mass than adults do, so it’s especially important that their air and water be clean and their food be healthy. And because they are still growing and developing, exposure to pollution—including mercury, lead, and chemicals—can be especially dangerous for kids.

This year, I’m proud that EPA has taken action to fight climate change, protect clean water, and promote safer pesticides—decreasing children’s health risks.

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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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This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey FitzpatrickResearch recap graphic identifier, a microscope with the words "research recap" around it in a circle

Celebrations in October usually elicit carving pumpkins, eating candy, and dressing up, but did you know that October is also Children’s Heath Month? EPA is celebrating by making this week Children’s Health Action Week.

EPA researchers work all year to protect children from environmental threats and promote environmental health wherever they live, learn, and play. This week we’ve highlighted some of those efforts.

Recipe for Fun: Just Add Water

For many kids, favorite summer activities, like sprinting through waves or leaping over sprinklers, involve lots of water. EPA researchers are continually working to keep these water-based activities fun and safe!

Read more.

Small, Curious, and Growing

Pound-for-pound, children eat, drink, and breathe more than their adult counterparts, potentially compounding exposure rates to pollutants and other unwanted things that might be lurking in our food, water, and air. EPA has always made protecting children’s environmental health a top priority.

Read More.

Children’s Health: An Investment in Our Future

In 1998, EPA helped establish the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program, one of the most successful public health research programs in the world and their work has led to groundbreaking research results.

Read more.

Science Matters: Children’s Health Research

Read more about children’s environmental health research in our newsletter.

If you have any comments or questions about what I share or about the week’s events, please submit them below in the comments section!

About the Author:Student contractor and writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a frequent contributor to “It All Starts with Science.”

 

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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A Healthy Collaboration to Improve Children’s Health

When we travel to cities and communities large and small, we see first-hand the direct link between a healthy environment and healthy lives, especially for our country’s children. But as we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth remembering that too many of our children, especially in minority communities, live in unhealthy environments that lead to unhealthy lives.

Scientific studies show that minority children who live, learn, and play in low-income communities are at a greater risk of environmental health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning, pesticides exposure, among others.

In 2009, approximately 70 percent of Hispanic children lived where air quality standards were subpar, contributing to higher incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases. In fact, Puerto Rican American children have among the highest levels of reported current asthma as compared to all other racial and ethnicity groups. In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 school-aged children live with asthma every day, those most affected live in lower-income communities of color.

These health disparities are more than just hospital visits and more medicine. They also mean more missed school days, and a higher incidence of obesity due to less exercise.

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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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Advancing Children’s Environmental Health: Our Best Investment

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

Group of children at schoolAnyone who has ever enjoyed watching a toddler explore their world knows that along with that marvelous sense of discovery comes potential trouble. Young children crawl around on the floor, play in the dirt, and don’t hesitate to retrieve a wayward cookie or other delectable treat hidden among the dust bunnies underneath the couch—and pop it straight into their mouth.

Behaviors like these, as well as their smaller bodies and still developing internal systems, make children more vulnerable to pollution and other environmental risks than us adults. That’s why we here at EPA make protecting children’s health a top priority.

read more…

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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