Children’ Health

Melanoma is Most Common Cancer for Young Adults Ages 20-30

By Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD

It was almost a year after her initial diagnosis at the age of 26, just around Thanksgiving, when we found out that my younger sister Melissa’s melanoma had spread. From that point on, Melissa’s battle with melanoma was a blur of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. I came home to be with her as often as I could, and would stay with her in the hospital each time she was admitted. I’d try to sleep in the chair next to her bed, but would oftentimes push her over in the middle of the night and make her share the bed with me the way we did when we were kids. I was so amazed by her resilience. She’d go into the hospital for surgery, and be on the phone two days later talking to her clients from her hospital bed. I don’t think many of her friends and co-workers even knew how serious her condition was because she was so incredible at bouncing back.

Feeling so far away, my husband and I decided to move to New York to be closer to our families. I was pregnant with my son when we moved. Melissa embraced my pregnancy and could not wait until the baby was born. She stayed with me in the delivery room while I was in labor, wiping my forehead, cheering me on and encouraging me to be strong. Always the inspiration to me, we decided to ask her to be my son’s Godmother and of course, she accepted.

It was shortly after my son’s christening in the fall of 2003 that we learned that Melissa’s cancer had not only spread to her brain, but to more lymph nodes, her liver, and her spine. Her doctors started her on more chemotherapy, but we knew it was only a matter of time. Three days before Christmas, she was admitted to the hospital because she was very weak. On Christmas Eve, she slipped into a coma and died two days later. My family was with her when she passed, each holding her hands and hugging her. It was very peaceful and full of love. I feel blessed to have been with her.

I know now that as a pediatrician, I have to make a difference. I cannot let my sister’s death be in vain. Parents need to know how to protect their kids against the sun and its harms. Since Melissa has died, I’ve decided to change my career path to try to be a louder voice for melanoma. I figure that by telling people her story and making them understand how awful a disease melanoma is, maybe more deaths can be prevented. This is the best way I can think of to honor her memory. Please learn more about how to be SunWise this Don’t Fry Day.

About the author: Maribeth Bambino Chitkara, MD, lost her younger sister to melanoma at the tender age of 29, and wants to remind you to be SunWise on “Don’t Fry Day” and every day.

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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My Secondhand Smoke “Aha” Moment

By Alison Freeman

Did you know that more than half of young children are exposed to secondhand smoke and most of this exposure occurs at home? Now that the weather is warming up, this is a good time to talk with loved ones who smoke about the benefits of taking smoking outside.

My secondhand smoke “aha” moment came a number of years ago at a colleague’s going away party. I picked up my son at his pre-school near work, cautiously entered the restaurant (sniffing for smoke along the way), then dashed my son to the private back room where the event was being held. Relieved there was a door and the air smelled free of smoke, (and giving no thought to ventilation), I foolishly concluded that it was safe for my son to stay. During our drive home, I kissed my son’s head and ruffled his hair and quickly discovered he reeked of cigarette smoke.

There’s good reason for my instinctive reaction I experienced and that I still so clearly recall. There is no risk-free exposure, no safe level of secondhand smoke, and no safe tobacco product, either for the smoker or the nonsmoker exposed. Cigarettes are a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and breathing in even a little smoke can be dangerous, resulting in temporary and sometimes permanent health consequences. We know secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in adults and children who do not smoke.

Choose to smoke outside, until you can quit, and share that message with others you care about or who care for your kids in their homes or cars.

To learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke, visit EPA’s website.

To get help with quitting, visit Smokefree.gov or contact the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW.

Lastly, the Surgeon General and CDC websites host a number of helpful consumer publications, posters, and tips.

About the author: Alison Freeman is the secondhand smoke policy specialist in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division, which addresses indoor air topics, including smoke-free homes, asthma, mold, radon, Indoor airPLUS and schools.

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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Black History Month:The Power of a Mother’s Voice

By Kuae Kelch Mattox
National President, Mocha Moms, Inc.

It’s been said that there is no one more protective than a mother over her children, and when it comes to our children’s health, our passion knows no bounds. Yet many women, like me, grew up taking the environment and the air we breathe for granted. We left the work of fighting for clean air to the die-hard environmentalists and dared speak up unless an issue hit too close to home.

But now across this country, many mothers, and mothers organizations in particular are realizing the incredible power of their collective voice. Mothers are the new face of environmentalism. You see us now on the frontlines, writing letters to the editor of our local paper, organizing grassroots efforts to educate our peers, promoting online environmental campaigns, going door to door with petitions and demanding accountability at town hall meetings. We now know that clean air is not only important, it is vital to the health and well being of future generations.

As an African American wife of an asthma sufferer and mother of three children, one of whom also suffers from asthma, I am horrified by the statistics that are devastating our community. African Americans visit the emergency room for asthma at 350 percent the average rate that whites do, and die from it twice as often. Mortality rates for cancer are higher for African Americans than for any other group, and heart disease is the most fatal illness in the black community.

We need to expand the conversation to include the environmental causes of illnesses that affect communities of color, the pollution that makes its way into our schools and the environmental challenges in our neighborhoods that hold back economic growth.

When the EPA asked Mocha Moms to join them in the fight for cleaner air, we jumped at the chance to further educate our mothers and their families.
Our hope is that our partnership with the EPA is only the beginning of an ongoing national dialog to empower mothers of color to be greater advocates for healthier environments. We are thrilled to have a seat at the discussion table. After all, it is our children who will ultimately reap the greatest benefit.

About the author: Kuae Kelch Mattox is the National President for Mocha Moms, Inc.  Mocha Moms, Inc. is a national, non-profit organization that supports stay at home mothers of color with 100 chapters in 29 states.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Healthy Family, A Healthy Community

by Jose Lozano

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors: we borrow it from our children.” Native American proverb…

My position at the Environmental Protection Agency allows me to observe first-hand environmental hazards and their impact on public health. I love the fact that what I do every day plays a small part in protecting children like my one year old daughter Brooke. We must not forget the environment affects every aspect of our life and influences who we are. I want to do everything I can to ensure that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are all clean, healthy and uncompromised. My generation was brought up expecting nothing less and is what I hope to pass along to Brooke and future generations.

There are a dizzying number of topics for parents to worry over when it comes to protecting their families, and new warnings seem to cross my desk daily, enough to make any parent frantic. We all know that young children are especially susceptible to health problems caused by environmental hazards and sometimes result in a lifetime of health conditions. Naturally, there is a desire to ensure we nurture our children with healthy and safe communities to grow up in. It’s the foundation that we as parents build on and I’m certain that parents of all races, faiths, cultures and income levels would agree. Thus, as a society, we must strive to create an environment that is not only in the best interest of our families, but one that benefits our community.

Healthy families and healthy communities are the main focus this week for Hispanic Heritage Month. Our work under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act protects the air we breathe and the water we drink, swim and shower for all communities. Although I’m not directly involved with our regulatory process, every night, when I look at my little girl resting peacefully, I’m reminded of the importance of our work and how it impacts Brooke and generations to come.

About the author: Jose Lozano, a first generation American and New Jersey native, currently serves as Director of Operations at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Jose served New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine in a variety of capacities beginning in 2005 as most recently served as Director for External Affairs at the NJ Office of Homeland Security.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Play Again…and again…and again!

By Wendy Dew

I have been involved with the national movement to reconnect kids with nature for a few years now. Children play less and less outside and spend a vast majority of their day inside looking at TV, the internet or playing video games.

The disconnect between children and nature has a profound impact on our children’s physical, mental health and sense of environmental stewardship. In the last twenty years, childhood obesity has more than doubled and adolescent obesity has tripled. Studies have shown that time in nature uniquely benefits children’s health, improves a child’s academic performance, concentration, and self esteem. It has even been shown to reduce symptoms associated with attention deficit disorder. In order to create an environmental responsible citizen we need to reconnect our children with nature.

I attended the Colorado Environmental Film Festival this past week and the opening night film was called “PLAY AGAIN.” This film unplugs a group of media savvy teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure – documenting the wonder that comes from time spent in nature and inspiring action for a sustainable future.

It never ceases to amaze me how different childhood is for kids now versus just 20 years ago. One young girl in the film really struck me. It was a joy to watch her spirit and creativity come out once she was out in nature. It was upsetting to see how dependent kids have become on media for their social interactions. This film re-inspired me to increase our efforts to get kids outside so they can enjoy a wider variety of activities, be healthier and gain a life-long appreciation for the natural world.

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

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Unjust Burden of Asthma

By Suril Mehta

Painful wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath. I’ve seen friends and family alike suffer through asthma, which now plagues more than 24 million Americans. You’d think that such a common chronic disease would affect all ages and races equally. The unfortunate truth is that asthma most heavily burdens minority children from under served areas.

I witnessed this inequality while working with asthmatic children in East Harlem in New York City last year. East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, is home to one of the highest childhood asthma rates and asthma-related hospitalizations in the country. What’s even more shocking is that a child living in East Harlem has almost three times the risk of asthma than a child living only ten blocks away.

As a recently-graduated environmental health epidemiologist, I wanted to figure out why children from this vibrant and culturally-diverse neighborhood are so heavily burdened by asthma.

I evaluated an effective city program which provides East Harlem asthmatic children services to better control their asthma. Most of the enrolled children belonged to poor Hispanic and African-American families. Prior to enrollment, many children had little access to healthcare services and no plan of action during an asthma attack.

Why is a neighborhood like East Harlem a high risk area for asthmatics?

Though we don’t exactly know what causes asthma, we do know what triggers asthma attacks. East Harlem is home to poor housing conditions. I had the privilege of visiting one of the enrolled child’s housing buildings, and the hallways of this low-income project smelled of mildew and cigarettes. Indoor environmental triggers such as mold, roaches, rats, pet dander, and smoke can all trigger asthmatic attacks. Additionally, these city-dwelling children were exposed to outdoor triggers such as air pollution and dust from construction work.

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, location, or poverty level deserves proper access to healthcare and healthy living conditions. What can we do to help reduce these differences in asthma rates in the US?

Even though asthma cannot be cured, children can control their asthma by avoiding triggers, using proper medications, and creating an asthma action plan.

It’s time to act on reducing disparities in asthma.

About the author: Suril Mehta works at the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection on efforts to reduce environmental exposures of childhood asthma.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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"Preventing Lead Poisoning"

Picture this: You live in a gorgeous older row home in Washington D. C. Although it’s a “fixer upper”, you bought it for its unmatched Victorian charm and its unbeatable location (Who doesn’t want to live next to a cupcake shop?). You finally decide it’s time to remodel the kid’s room and update the kitchen, but your spidey-sense is going off because you know that renovating a pre-1978 homes with lead paint can have risks. What’s the next step?

  • Do a search on the internet about EPA’s Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting rule
  • Look for a contractor, but make sure to ask them if they are EPA Lead-Safe Certified
  • Check with your pediatrician about testing your children for lead

The answer is: All of the above — And don’t forget to share what you learn on your neighborhood list serve!

Learning about Lead-Safe renovations is one of the many actions you can take to prevent lead poisoning during Lead Poisoning Prevention Week this October 24-30, 2010.

This year for Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, consider taking concrete steps to make a difference (or tell a neighbor):

  1. Get Your Home Tested. Ask for a lead inspection if you live in home built before 1978.
  2. Get Your Child Tested. Ask your doctor to test your young children for lead even if they seem healthy.
  3. Get the Facts. Read more information about preventing childhood lead poisoning

Tell us, what are you doing to spread the word or learn more about Lead Poisoning Prevention.

About the author: Christina Wadlington joined EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics in July 2008 and works in the National Program Chemicals Division.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Let’s Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is in just a few days. Hard to believe that it’s already here. Sometimes it seems like ole Turkey Day gets sideswiped by the gift buying and holiday madness the day after. It’s almost as if Thanksgiving is a part of the countdown to holidays in December. People can sometimes forget to slow down and actually remember what it’s all about. A time to give thanks.

One of the traditions in my family growing up was to write down what we were thankful for. We would write simple things down on slips of paper and place them into a pilgrim boat craft made by one of the grandkids long ago. After stuffing our faces and sitting around the table enjoying each other’s company, we would pass the slips around the table and everyone would read one out loud. Granted, several of the slips ended up being more humorous than anything. Sometimes it turned into a game to figure out who wrote what, but we all smiled and laughed and said ‘aw’ at heartfelt responses. We were together. And we all were thankful for that. And while this year we are all spread out across the country and not reading our paper slips, I know that we still have a lot to be thankful for, including one another. Not to mention, our stomachs were thankful for all of the food that we stuffed ourselves with.

As you begin preparing your feast in a couple of days, I thought it might be prudent to bring up some facts about pesticides. It is important to note that infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks from pesticides because their internal organs are still developing and maturing, they eat and drink more than adults in relation to their body weight, and certain behaviors like crawling on the ground or putting objects in their mouths may increase a children’s exposure to pesticides. Pesticides can harm children by blocking absorption of nutrients from food and can also cause harm if a child’s excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Under the Food Quality Protection Act (1996), EPA evaluates children’s exposure to pesticide residues in and on foods they most commonly eat. The EPA ensures the pesticide residues on foods are safe for children. To learn more about why children may be especially sensitive to pesticides you can visit this website. Some consumers are purchasing organically grown foods to reduce their exposure to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Other ways to reduce pesticides on food include washing, peeling and trimming food, and selecting a variety of foods. You can learn more about what organic means to you and your family by clicking here. You can also purchase food from local farmer’s markets to reduce harmful emissions into the air. So as you begin your preparations for Thursday, take the time to eliminate risks for pesticides. That’s one thing you and your family can always be thankful for.

About the author: Emily Bruckmann is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a senior attending Indiana University who will graduate with a degree in public health this spring.

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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ISO Advice to Connect a Set of New-Teen Dots

She’s turning 13 and bright as can be, but I’m in need of advice on how to teach my daughter that there’s an easy-to-see connection between what she’s learning about the environment and simple, everyday choices she makes that affect the environment. And this being Children’s Health Month, it’s time for teenagers, including my brand new one, to consider as well how environmental health affects children and their health now and as adults.

She recently read the student version of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” which clearly explains and visualizes environmental trends, the influence of human-made carbon emissions, and ways government, industry and people can begin to reverse conditions which have likely alarming consequences. (Readers of Greenversations, I’d confidently guess, are well familiar with Gore’s evidence and argument.)

She gets it. So why, on the same day, can she cogently explain what the Keeling atmospheric CO2 curve tells us, and then leave lights on in empty rooms or ask for multiple car rides when one and a bike ride or two would do? Might some creative Children’s Health Month tips do the trick?

This very short Greenversations piece ends with one sincere request because I’m hoping you feel my pain and have the answer: Can you help me help her connect the global–personal–health dots?

There’s one other consideration to hone my request. My darling daughter can get a bit huffy if I say something critical.

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government 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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