children’s health

Working Across the Globe to Tackle Risks from Lead in Paint

It’s striking to me that children in developing countries still face serious health threats because lead continues to be legally used in paints in places where children live and play. Paints with concentrations as high as 10,000 ppm can be sold and used in homes and schools because there are no legal limits on lead. In addition, children may also be exposed to risks from lead in the air, soil and water in these countries. Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.

That’s why last month in New Delhi, India, we stood with our partners in the Global Alliance to End Lead Paint to work toward establishing legal limits on lead in decorative paint in other countries. We presented elements of U.S. legislation and coordinated technical expertise from the U.S. and countries around the world.

group picture of conference attendees

At home in the U.S., we already have in place federal and state regulatory standards that have helped minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in gas, air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and the workplace. Our health and environment has significantly improved with these restrictions and blood lead levels have declined. The median concentration of lead in the blood of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years dropped from 15 µg/dL in 1976-1980 to 1.2 µg/dL in 2009-2010.

However, our work is not done. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2009-2012 show an estimated 535,000 children (or 2.1 percent of children) in the U.S. have blood lead levels greater than or equal to 5 micrograms per deciliter, levels known to put children’s academic and later life success at risk. Also, CDC’s blood lead surveillance data, collected from state and local health departments, continues to identify a disproportionate share of children with elevated blood comes from low income and minority communities. Finally, it is estimated that 37 million homes still contain lead-based paint.

Because there is no known safe blood lead level for children, EPA and other federal partners continue to work together to control or eliminate lead hazards before children are exposed. While we have made significant progress to reduce children’s exposure to lead, there is still more work to do.

Find out more about reducing risk from lead.

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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Pediatricians’ Perspective: Ensuring Clean Air, Protecting Children’s Health

By Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP

When we recognize October as Children’s Health Month, bringing awareness to children’s unique health needs, it can be easy to overlook one variable that impacts each one of us every day, especially the health of our children—changes in our environment.

The health effects of increasing pollution levels on child health may not be as easy to see as a sore throat or runny nose, but they can still cause damage, leading to adverse reactions like asthma and reduced lung function. As pediatricians whose number one job is to keep children healthy, we believe that our changing climate and its impact on children’s health warrants our full attention.

To help ring the alarm bell on this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently hosted a Twitter chat with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, which reached more than 7 million people, emphasizing the need to keep our air clean for children.

Children are uniquely susceptible to changes in their environment. They breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water per unit of body weight, making them more vulnerable to pollutants. Children today are already experiencing climate associated health impacts, including worsening allergic and asthmatic disease, changes in patterns of climate-sensitive infectious diseases such as Lyme Disease and displacement from extreme events like Hurricane Katrina. In fact, more than 80% of the current health burden due to changing climate occurs in children younger than five years old.

Children also have a fundamental right to inherit a planet that is as safe, productive and beautiful as the one our generation has enjoyed. Given our knowledge of the grave and potentially irreversible impacts of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, to continue on our current emissions trajectory is an unprecedented injustice to future generations.

There is no one solution to this sweeping public health concern, but the EPA has taken a step in the right direction by proposing a rule that would help to limit carbon emissions. Pediatricians are committed to working with the agency to ensure the strongest possible standards are implemented to protect children’s health, and are calling on public health advocates across the country to join us. We have no time to waste– the health and security of our children depends on our success.

About the authors: Jerome Paulson, MD, FAAP, and Samantha Ahdoot, MD, FAAP, chair and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, respectively, are pediatricians based in the Washington, DC metro area.

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’s Health from Lead Poisoning in Paints in the US and Around the World

Pictures of brightly painted playgrounds, schools, and day care centers make for cheerful spaces for smiling, laughing children. However, in many developing countries these colorful paints can actually pose a serious health threat because lead can still legally be used in paints in places where children live and play. Children are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards and are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning from lead in paint.

Lead poses serious, lifelong health risks to children. As lead paints deteriorate, it enters the environment and can lead to lead poisoning. Some of the potential effects include sensory, motor, cognitive, and behavioral impacts that can result in lowered intelligence; reading and learning disabilities; impaired hearing, reduced attention span; hyperactivity; delayed puberty; reduced postnatal growth; and anemia.

The economic impact of the loss of IQ due to lead poisoning is significant as well. A recent study in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal estimated lost economic productivity due to lead poisoning to be “a total cost of $977 billion of international dollars in low- and middle-income countries”. The health, social, and economic impacts of lead poisoning are devastating, but avoiding risk from lead in paint is something that we can easily address.

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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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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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Acting on Climate Change for our Children’s Sake

By Gina McCarthy and Nsedu Obot Witherspoon

The missions of the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) align for a simple reason: healthy people depend on a healthy environment to live, work, and play in.

Scientific research shows our children are especially vulnerable to environmental health hazards. October is Children’s Health Month, and as we work to raise awareness and act on health risks, we need to keep children’s health considerations and concerns at the forefront of our research, practice, and policy decisions. We need to be especially vigilant as we face new health risks from climate change.

Warmer temperatures from climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, are making allergy seasons longer and worsening smog, exacerbating children’s asthma. One in ten kids in the U.S. already suffers from asthma, and these numbers could go up. Hotter weather is also increasing moisture in the air in some locations. More moisture means more mold and mildew—which also cause respiratory problems.

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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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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

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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EPA Grant Makes Great Strides in Education and Health

One of the many things we do in the EPA Denver office is work on education and children’s health. We wanted to share some work that Denver based National Jewish Health completed as part of an environmental education grant. This grant allowed National Jewish Health to work with regional projects that focused on environmental education and health. One of the objectives is to work with research organizations to bring the best science to address children’s health.

National Jewish Health is a Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center (Children’s Centers). Jointly funded by EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Children’s Centers conduct research to understand the complex interactions between the environment, genetics, and other factors, and how those interactions may affect children’s health.

Air quality and health was a program that allowed a network within EPA Region 8 to increase skills related to air quality and human health, and provide environmental education to schools, higher education institutions, and not for profit organizations to help tailor implementation and stewardship activities to meet the needs of their community.

image of two girls standing in front of lockers at a display table

East Middle School in Aurora, Colorado during a back to school night discussing asthma and environmental impacts on lung health.

In total, there were 19 projects reaching over 25,000 youth in EPA Region 8. More than 15 lesson plans/resources were developed and nine public schools, three higher education institutions, and seven community organizations were funded to conduct a variety of activities in diverse settings. Here are some of the projects:

  • The Clean Air Engines Off! program is an anti-idling education program offered through the American Lung Association to local schools.
  • At the Conservation Center in Paonia, Colorado, students conducted investigations on topics including airplane emissions, indoor air quality, effects of train traffic and the creation of carbon dioxide during physical exertion. Students presented their findings to the public through a community meeting organized by The Conservation Center.
  • At the Denver Green School students’ projects included connecting basic circuits to a microcontroller and programming it both to control the circuit and to interface with a user. The students worked with environmental sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and air quality.
  • At the John McConnell Math and Science Center in Grand Junction, Colorado an interactive, computer‐based program and kiosk was developed to teach students about:
    1. Formation and sources of ground-based ozone
    2. Differences between “good” and “bad” ozone
    3. Effects of ozone on lung health and the environment, and
    4. Exploration of what individuals can do to reduce the creation of ozone.
  • The Utah Society for Environmental Education provided skills in linking air quality and health and offered three workshops reaching teachers from along the Wasatch Front.

It’s very rewarding to see the successful outcomes of our grant programs. These grants allow environmental programs to reach a greater audience than EPA could reach alone.

For more information about protecting children’s health, visit www2.epa.gov/children.

About the authors: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8. Kim Bartels is the Children’s Environmental Health Coordinator for EPA Region 8. The authors are sharing these stories to celebrate Children’s Health Month.

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: Now That I’m a Mom

By Jessica Orquina

This is my first Children’s Health Month as a mother. Last October, I wrote about how my concerns and habits had changed as an expectant mother. Now, my son is almost one year old and I’m still learning how to best protect his health, and our planet.

Since the baby arrived, my husband and I have been making sure our house is clean and dust-free to help him breath better. And, I made sure that the toys I buy are safe and kept clean.

Recently, my son started scooting around and becoming curious about everything he can get his hands on. So, I’ve been baby proofing our apartment. We use safer cleaning products, like those with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label, but I still make sure they are all out of reach of small hands. I’ve stored them all up and out of reach and put locks on the cabinet doors.

It’s important to remember, children are not little adults. They are more vulnerable to environmental exposures because their systems are still developing, they often play on the floor or ground, and they like to put things in their mouths. As parents we need to remember to keep their environments safe and protect them.

Here are some tips to protect your kids from environmental health risks.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of Public Affairs as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and son.

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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From the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest – Working with Communities for Environmental Protection: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Gina Bonifacino

My Peace Corps site assignment was not what I would have conjured in my mind as a kid, dreaming about a future adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in some isolated corner of the world. San Jose de Buenavista, Antique was a busy, medium-sized provincial capital in the Philippines.

I was assigned to the Provincial Planning Office to work on coastal management. With a very general assignment, and being new to the country and the community, my first challenge was figuring out how a fresh college graduate, new to the language and culture of the Philippines, could help.

A co-worker at the Provincial Planning Office was very excited about piloting a new method of gathering planning data, Participatory Resource Assessment (PCRA). As I learned more about this tool, I became interested in exploring it as a means to connect with communities and better understand coastal issues in the province.

After consulting with provincial colleagues and getting support from local officials, we planned and held a series of assessments with five coastal communities. These assessments brought community members and officials together to map and document issues in their communities.

The biggest issues that the communities identified – health concerns, livelihood and environmental degradation – were all closely linked. Many homes didn’t have access to clean water or sanitation. Women had to spend nearly an hour per day just to collect clean water. Without proper sanitation, waterways were polluted and children became sick. Most of these families subsisted on local fisheries, but had in recent years seen numbers declining due to encroachment from illegal fishing boats within municipal waters.

I’d have never been able to understand these issues without direct community engagement. And, I knew that solutions, like establishing a local fisheries policing force, required community involvement. It was incredibly rewarding to work and make friends with the community members.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve worked with the communities in the Philippines through the Peace Corps; however, that experience continues to serve me as an EPA employee in our Seattle office. After data showed that poor burning practices and burning in old, dirty woodstoves and fireplaces contributed to unhealthy particulate levels in many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan communities, I drew on my Peace Corps experience, and worked with local agencies, EPA’s Headquarters Office of Air and Radiation, and local communities on a campaign to reduce particulate matter from wood smoke.

The campaign grew and is now known as Burn Wise. As a result of EPA’s work with communities, many households have been able to help reduce particulate pollution from woodsmoke, increase heating efficiency, and improve the air they breathe inside of their homes.

About the author: Gina Bonifacino is with Region 10’s Puget Sound Program.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

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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