Children’ Health

Want Kids to Do Better in School? This Environmental Approach Can Help

Schools are busy places, with bustling schoolyards, kitchens full of lunchboxes and trays, and kids and adults who constantly come and go. These busy environments can sometimes have pest problems that need to be addressed – like flies, spiders, yellow jackets, roaches and ants, for example.

As a parent, I know how important it is to me that my kids and their classmates have a healthy environment to learn, thrive and grow. Unhealthy school environments – including poor air quality — can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance. Pest exposure can also trigger asthma, which can cause kids to miss class and a chance to learn.

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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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Day In the Life: A Visit to Boston

I went home to Boston on Tuesday to engage with public health professionals and experts to discuss the important link between the health of our environment and the health of our children. We know climate change is fueling environmental public health problems such as asthma and other respiratory ailments, which is why the agency is taking action to reduce carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Power Plan and other initiatives.

Here’s a look at my day:

Excited to have GinaEPA in Boston today: mtg w/families & healthcare workers re impacts of clean air & President Obama’s #ClimateActionPlan

— EPA New England (@EPAnewengland) August 19, 2014

I started the day at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Administrator McCarthy and the staff from Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) show they are united on improving the health of children suffering from asthma and respiratory problems aggravated by environmental factors.

Administrator McCarthy and the staff from Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU).

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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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At the Intersection of Human Health and Environmental Protection

A community’s health, safety, and productiveness is dependent on the protection of its environment. This intersection, between environmental stewardship and community growth, is one of the most important aspects of the work we do every day at EPA. That’s why one of Administrator McCarthy’s key themes is making a visible difference in communities across the country. However, it’s not just cities and towns here in the U.S. that benefit from environmental protection. Worldwide, our homes are safer, our children are healthier, and our economies are stronger when we invest in environmental stewardship.

During my time at EPA, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the impact of environmental protection in communities worldwide. When I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I saw firsthand the environmental challenges that communities were facing in Africa and other parts of the world. More

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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You Can Help Make a Difference for Kids with this One Easy Step

By Jessica Orquina

Will you lend us your voice to protect children from pollutants? Children are more sensitive to pollutants: their bodies are still developing; they eat, drink, and breathe more in proportion to their body size; and their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and microbes.

We have simple tips for how to protect children from environmental harms, and we need your help to tell the world. Social media has changed the way we communicate, but it’s also given us new ways to amplify our voices. This week, we’re using Thunderclap to get the word out about tips for protecting kids. Lend us your voice by allowing us to send a message to your social media followers.

Our first Thunderclap will go out on October 31 at 2:00 pm EDT:

“You protect your kids from strangers and bullies. What about harmful pollutants?

What is Thunderclap? It’s a system that helps people share a message at the same time.  How does it work? We’ve created a message, and you can sign up to let Thunderclap post that message to any combination of your Twitter, FB, and Tumblr accounts. It’s like a virtual flash mob – the messages will go out on everyone’s walls and feeds at the same time. Note that you’re signing up for only this message,  not future thunderclaps.

We need you, because in order to send our Thunderclap, we need 500 people to sign up!

Join us today and add your voice. Thanks for your support!

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

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 Our Children from Lead Poisoning

By Lina Younes

The other day, my husband and I met with a potential contractor to discuss some home repair projects. During our conversation, he asked if our home was built before 1978. While I gladly stated it wasn’t, I knew exactly why he asked: EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule requires contractors to follow safe lead practices when working on homes and child care facilities built before 1978. While the United States banned the sale of lead-based paint in 1978, paint and dust with lead can still be a problem in places built before then.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can seriously hurt people, especially kids. Elevated blood lead levels in children affect almost every organ in their bodies. In extreme cases, it can even be lethal. So, what can you do to protect your children and family?

  • Clean your home regularly, watching especially for deteriorating lead-based paint and paint chips or dust.
  • Wash your children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys often.
  • Have your children wipe and remove their shoes and wash hands after playing outdoors.
  • Feed your kids a healthy diet so their bodies will absorb less lead.
  • If you think your child could be at risk, consult your doctor about whether you should test how much lead is in your child’s blood.

The number of lead poisoning cases has steadily gone down since EPA banned lead in gasoline and residential paint. We’re trying to reduce them even further, though. This year, we’re working with our federal, state, and international partners through the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint.

We need to make special efforts to protect our children’s health: they’re more vulnerable than adults because of their size and behavior. For example, they eat and drink more in proportion to their weight. That intensifies the effects of exposure to lead and other contaminants. Furthermore, their habit of putting their hands and small objects in their mouths puts them at greater risk of swallowing lead from paint or dust particles. Since lead poisoning is totally preventable, wouldn’t you like to do your part to protect your child?

 

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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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, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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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Fueling our Future

By Bob Perciasepe, Acting Administrator

This month EPA took an important next step to ensure that the cars of the future are not only the most fuel efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective cars to hit America’s roads – but they’re also the healthiest.

The new tailpipe standards we proposed, which are currently out for public comment, will protect millions of Americans from breathing polluted, potentially harmful air. These standards for tailpipe emissions are called “Tier 3” and include a combination of lowering sulfur content in gasoline and enhancing emission controls in automobiles – a systematic approach that has proven successful in the past as an efficient and cost effective program. That, in turn, will lead to significant public health benefits: Our research indicates that, by 2030, Tier 3 standards would annually prevent up to 2,400 premature deaths, 23,000 cases of respiratory symptoms in children, and 1.8 million sick days home from work or school.

Tier 3 tailpipe emission standards are designed to work in concert with vehicle fuel economy and green house gas standards the Obama Administration finalized last summer. When fully implemented, this comprehensive approach will save thousands of lives and protect the health of millions – all while strengthening our energy security, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and saving drivers money at the pump.  Reducing our dependence on oil, and foreign oil in particular, is an important part of the all-of-the-above approach to energy President Obama has long championed. So, even as we are increasing the amount of oil produced on our shores annually, we are also working to ensure the cars Americans will be driving are far more fuel efficient.  The fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards finalized last summer will phase in each year and ultimately double the fuel economy of motor vehicles by 2025, cutting oil consumption by 12 billion barrels in the process. Less oil consumed means substantially less greenhouse gas pollution, a leading driver of climate change. It also means fewer dollars spent filling up gas tanks – an estimated 1.7 trillion fewer dollars in total. Much has been made of the small – less than a penny – estimated increase in the cost of gasoline from Tier 3, but when you look at the full program and improved fuel economy and the tremendous savings of using half the gasoline for the same drive, consumers win – big time.

Much like the standards from last summer, the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe emission standards are already seeing widespread support from the auto industry. Clear, national standards allow manufacturers to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states. They also give automakers the market confidence they need to invest in the cleaner, more efficient technologies of the future. That’s why Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, this month called Tier 3 “a positive step forward,” explaining that the industry has wanted a “road map” to simplify regulations nationwide. When coupled with the fuel economy standards, these comprehensive approach fuel and tailpipe standards will provide the clear signal for increased investment and jobs in the automobile industry.

State and local officials support Tier 3 tailpipe standards, too. Stronger emissions standards make it easier for local governments to meet their Clean Air Act responsibilities and ensure residents are able to enjoy the clean, healthier air they expect and deserve.

Cleaner air rarely comes for free, but we often find that costs are dwarfed by the benefits clean air provides. This case is no exception. By 2030, EPA estimates that the monetized health benefits of the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe standards would be somewhere between $8 and $23 billion each year. That’s up to $7 in health benefits for every $1 invested in meeting the new standards. When combined with the thousands of dollars every driver will save at the pump thanks to last summer’s updated fuel economy standards, American drivers will be paying a lot less for gasoline over the next decade.

That is the beauty of the comprehensive approach now made possible by the proposed Tier 3 tailpipe standards: significant air pollution reductions with up to $23 billion in health benefits and modern fuels for modern automobile technology that is creating investment and jobs, doubling fuel economy, cutting gasoline bills in half on average and reducing green house gases.

For more than four years, this administration has worked to ensure the next generation of vehicles will offer all of the choices drivers have today. But those vehicles will also be more technologically advanced than ever before. They will be more efficient and much cheaper to power. And they will leave our communities cleaner and healthier than they have been in decades.

About the author: Bob Perciasepe is acting administrator of the U.S. 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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Protecting Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and 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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Walking to School

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By Gina Snyder

At a recent visit to Birchmeadow Elementary School in my hometown to talk to students about our watershed, I noticed a poster on the wall saying “October is National Walk to School Month”. I was delighted – not just because walking is good for public health and the environment, but also because I had just learned that this would mean students would be more attentive when I spoke.

At a recent lecture by Mark Fenton, an adjunct professor at Tufts University, I learned that teachers can tell when children walk or bike to school. “They are better behaved in class and more ready to learn,” Fenton had said.

Fenton, a nationally known public health and transportation consultant and former host of the “America’s Walking” series on PBS television, noted that obesity among children is so widespread that this generation will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Whether we have children or not, we can all help students to live healthier lives.

For instance, by driving respectfully and stopping for pedestrians, we can encourage walking and biking. Like many people living in the Boston area, I have nearly been run over by crazy drivers, so I know the role drivers play in making walking safer.

Drivers can also become role models by leaving cars home. It’s healthier and better for the environment when we use our own people-power to get around.

And remember, children learn through experience. Walking with adults lets children practice crossing streets.

As you walk, follow these tips:

  • Look for traffic at each driveway and intersection. Be aware of drivers in parked cars getting ready to move.
  • Obey traffic signs and signals.
  • Cross the street safely.

Wear bright-colored clothes, and carry flashlights or wear reflective gear if it is dark or hard to see.

As days get shorter, don’t let darkness keep you from walking. When walking or biking at dawn or dusk, wear light-colored clothing and add reflective gear. Also, carry a flashlight – point the beam downward and slightly outward, and move it as you swing your arm with your natural walking rhythm.

When bicycling in dark or low light, have a headlight. Massachusetts law requires a front white headlight and a rear red reflector or red light on bicycles operated between 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise.

So, keep stepping, peddling, or pounding the pavement – safely! It will be good for your health and for the environment.

About the author: Gina Snyder is an engineer at EPA’s New England office and volunteers with the Ipswich River Watershed Association and Walkable Reading. A 10-year participant in the Garden Club’s Adopt-an-Island program, Gina is hoping to help her home town plant rain gardens.

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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