children

Air Quality and Your Summer Vacation Outdoors

by Susan Stone

Air quality in the United States has improved considerably.  But, summertime air quality can still reach the unhealthy ranges of the Air Quality Index (AQI) – even in remote locations such as our beautiful national parks. Picture this: you’re camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (one of my favorites). You’re ready to take your kids hiking for the day, and you see a sign announcing a park-wide ozone advisory.

ozone

One of your teenagers has asthma. What can you do?

The first step is to check the daily AQI. I check the AQI forecast and current conditions before any hike by entering the zip code into the free AirNow app on my phone. In a national park, you can check with the park rangers if you don’t have the app.  Then use the AQI to help decide whether to change or restrict your activities — something that’s especially important if you’re in a group at greater risk from ozone exposure.

For example, when my children were younger, I didn’t take them on long hikes if ozone levels were Code Orange or above. Children, including teenagers, are considered to be at greater risk from ozone because their lungs are still developing. And children with asthma are at the greatest risk because ozone can cause or increase inflammation in airways.

Asthma is a disease characterized by airway inflammation. It’s this inflammation that can trigger an asthma attack, and it’s inflammation that your child’s asthma action plan is designed to prevent or limit. As ozone levels increase from Code Orange to Code Red on the AQI, it’s more important to limit prolonged, or strenuous, outdoor activities. Take more rest breaks and always pay attention to symptoms. This same approach ensures that kids can engage in outdoor activities safely at school, while still encouraging them to achieve the recommended 60 or more minutes of physical activity each day.

So, if today’s ozone AQI forecast in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Code Red (unhealthy for everyone), the park ranger may recommend that your entire family avoid prolonged, intense activities today and engage in activities at the more sheltered, lower elevation areas of the park rather than the exposed ridgetops. You could plan your more strenuous hike for the next day, when the ozone forecast is Code Yellow. If you were planning to hike the Alum Cave Bluff Trail on the way to Mt. LeConte, a moderately strenuous trail that rises 2,900 feet to 6,400 feet, you could change your plans to visit Cades Cove, a broad valley that offers the widest variety of historic buildings in the park.

cove

Walking around the historical sites in the valley would allow your family to continue enjoying your outdoor vacation, but keep activity levels low enough to avoid unhealthy air pollution exposures.

Check your daily AQI and download the free AirNow app: www.airnow.gov

About the author: Susan Stone is a Senior Environmental Health Scientist who likes to hike, especially in national parks and North Carolina state parks. Her most recent national parks visit was to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. She checked the AQI as part of her hiking plans and had a great time.

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

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Protecting Our Children and Our Environment

It is great to be a granddad. My granddaughter Marin was born on December 8 and my newest granddaughter Effie was born on March 3. They are the most beautiful babies ever. Yes. I am biased. People often ask me why I became a regional administrator for EPA – and I only have to hold one of my granddaughters to know the reason.

Photo of Ron and Marin, his granddaughter.

Ron and Marin, his granddaughter

 

At EPA, we make visible difference in communities by addressing possible threats to children’s health from environmental exposures and impacts of climate change. Did you know…

  • In Region 6 alone, there are 10 million children under the age of 18. The percentage of children living in poverty in this Region is about 27 percent, just about the highest percentage in the nation. Some people are particularly at risk, especially those who are poor.
  • Asthma prevalence continues to grow. Nationally over 7 million children, or about 9.5 percent have asthma. The Regional average is higher, at more than 12 percent.
  • Climate change is likely to increase the amount of bad ozone in the air because more ozone is created when the temperature is warm.

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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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Join a White House Google+ Hangout with Energy Secretary Moniz & EPA Administrator McCarthy Moderated by Grist

UPDATE: Due to scheduling conflicts, today’s Google+ hangout with Administrator McCarthy and Secretary Moniz has been cancelled.

Cross-posted from the The White House Blog

By Erin Lindsay, White House

Less than three months ago, President Obama delivered an address at Georgetown University that underscored the moral obligation we have to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The President issued a Climate Action Plan for his second term that laid out commonsense steps to reduce carbon pollution and address the effects of climate change both here and across the globe.

Today, the Administration issued a Climate Action Plan progress report detailing important implementation milestones on everything from cutting carbon pollution, preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change and ways we are leading global efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, advance international negotiations and promoting new actions to promote energy efficiency. Check out highlights from our progress since the President announced the Climate Action Plan.

Want to know more about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan? Join us Monday, September 23rd at 12:15 p.m. EDT for a White House Google+ Hangout with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, and moderated by Lisa Hymas, Senior Editor of Grist.org.

During the Hangout, Secretary Moniz and Administrator McCarthy will answer questions from the public about the progress underway to implement the President’s plan. You can participate and and ask your question by visiting Grist.org or on Twitter using the hashtag #ActOnClimate.

Here are the details:

Don’t forget to tune into the Hangout live at 12:15 p.m. EDT on Monday, September 23rd on WhiteHouse.gov/ClimateHangout or on the White House Google+ page.

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 the Planet for Our Children

USEPA photo by Eric Vance

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Harvard Law School about the future of EPA – our challenges, and our incredible opportunities. The highlight of my day, however, wasn’t the fact that I got to speak about issues that I care very deeply about. About how working to fight climate change can serve as an economic driver, helping create new jobs, new industries and new innovation. It wasn’t even that I got to stand in front of many of the environmental heroes who have paved the way before me. The highlight for me came when one my children – my daughter, Maggie – got behind the podium and introduced me before my first speech as the new EPA Administrator, in front of my younger daughter, Julie, who was all smiles in the front row.

I think about all of my children – Maggie, Julie and Dan – when I go to work every morning. Because after all, the work we do is about the generations that will come after us, and the planet that we will leave behind. As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot of hope for the next generation. And it’s my goal to make sure that we get out of the way and let them do what we know they will do – which is to ensure that we have a sustainable economy and a protected environment.

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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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Unleash the Child Within You

By Lina Younes

The other night as I was tucking my youngest in bed, she asked me a question that I have been mulling over ever since. “Mom, why do adults lose their creativity when they get older? Imagine if children invented things!” Her insight left me speechless as I tried unsuccessfully to find a thoughtful explanation.

As we grow up and mature, what stifles our creativity? Why do we seem less willing to take risks? I have seen many children absorb new languages like sponges, while adults seem to lose the power to “hear and pronounce” new sounds. Though there may be some physiological issues involved, it seems to me that grammatical rules of the Mother Tongue become the main constraints to learning foreign languages. The same seems to apply to science and math. I’ll explain.

I remember playing the “Wheel of Science” game at several environmental education exhibits. Young children would eagerly spin the wheel to play and guess the questions even if they had no clue of the correct response. I remember watching how the parents, on the other hand, literally cringed in fear when they saw the word “science” and hesitated in their answers. Why is that? Is it society’s norms and conventions that prevent us from thinking out of the box? Is it the natural maturing and aging process that does so?

Haven’t you noticed that many of the most creative inventors, artists, movie directors are criticized for “acting too much like kids?” I don’t think that they have a Peter Pan complex. Quite the contrary, these creative adults see beyond traditional conventions. So, we, as a society, explain that unique behavior by saying that these creative individuals are acting too much like children, unfortunately.

As I was working with my colleagues in the EPA Office of Research and Development on a project to highlight the work of EPA scientists and engineers, I noticed that they shared something in common. No, it wasn’t their love for science and math. It was something more profound. They shared a sense of wonder. They were inquisitive. Many loved nature and outdoors activities.

So, why don’t we encourage our children to embrace their creativity? Both our children and the world as a whole would benefit in the process. Don’t you think? What are your thoughts on the issue?

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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Partnering to Improve Farmworker Pesticide Safety

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

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By Ashley Nelsen

Image of a family at home.Pesticides play an important role in providing us the variety of fruits and vegetables that we have come to expect. It’s my office’s job to ensure that pesticides do their job in the field and don’t pose unnecessary health risks to people. When studies showed that children of farmworkers are exposed to pesticide residues found in their homes, a longstanding partnership between the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and the EPA went into action.

The product of this partnership is Project LEAF (Limiting Exposure Around Families) and its training materials. Project LEAF was designed to educate farmworkers and their families on the hazards, prevention and mitigation of take-home pesticide exposure. Carefully crafted messages throughout the training and the training materials are designed to create permanent behavior change, such as laundering family clothing separate from work clothing, thus reducing pesticide residue within the home.

Educating farmworkers, their families and other environmental justice communities on pesticide safety poses unique challenges. America’s farmworkers often migrate with the ebb and flow of the seasons, making it difficult to locate them for safety training. Farmworkers today are predominantly Hispanic and often struggle with low literacy. Therefore, training and supporting materials such as brochures, pocket foldout cards, posters, magnets and public service announcements were designed to be bilingual, culturally sensitive, and low literacy.

In addition to developing the training and its supporting materials, AFOP delivers free Project LEAF training throughout the country. They are one of very few organizations capable of reaching the migrant farmworker population, cultivating the important relationship between farmers and growers, and assisting in locating important resources such as clinics, agricultural extension and churches for farmworkers.

The partnership between the EPA and AFOP has allowed the EPA to cost effectively access AFOP’s national farmworker network. We’re excited about the impact this training makes on the farmworker population by enabling them to protect themselves and their children. Read more information about free Project LEAF training.

About the author: Ashley Nelsen began working at the EPA’s HQ Office in Washington, DC, in May 2008 as an intern, returning as a permanent employee in September 2009. She received her M.A. in International Environmental Policy and Spanish at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Ashley currently works on issues related to farmworker outreach, pesticide safety, the EPA regulation for worker protection and international pesticide policy.

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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New England Fairy Houses

By Amy Miller

The hundreds of little girls prancing around historic Portsmouth in pink tutus and silvery fairy wings were adorable. Of course. And even the mothers that put a splotch of glitter on their cheeks were endearing. But what really warmed my heart were the men – police officers? – directing traffic in flowing princess skirts and organdy wings.

For eight years, Portsmouth has welcomed the community for a weekend of viewing incredibly artful fairy houses. Fairy houses, for the uninformed, are essentially tiny houses made of twigs, leaves, pinecones or whatever else you find in the woods, the yard, in nature. And they are the residences of fairies.

The Fairy House Tour invited visitors to tour five dozen abodes tucked under maples, hidden among tomato plants, blooming from Prescott Park’s flower beds and sitting in the pathways of historic Strawbery Banke. Thousands of people came to see the diminutive garden center, the tea room, the yarn store, the dress shop and so on.

The fairy house craze has been a New England tradition for decades or longer. But in the last few years it has taken off as a way to encourage kids to be outside and enjoying nature.

Author Tracey Kane of New Hampshire set the tradition on fire and inspired the Portsmouth tour after her book “Fair Houses” came out about a decade ago. Her website suggests building fairy houses as an antidote for the so-called “nature-deficit disorder” affecting kids these days.

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005, refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. After traveling the country, Louv concluded children are spending more time on either organized sports or inside on screens. He partly blames a culture of fear among parents that he says is exacerbated by the media.

Although my 10-year-old son watches nowhere near the average amount of TV, and neither of us is particularly fearful of the outdoors or the people you find there, he was predictably sullen about going to the land of girls in tutus. He was lured by his 9-year-old female cousin and the boats I promised he’d see from Prescott Park.

Still, when we got to the part where you build your own, everything changed. Benjamin’s testosterone (culturally derived training?) kicked in and he erected a construction site. A twig log here, a milkweed stalk there and he was off hunting the woods for more building materials.

And so it seems, the pull of nature once again is hard for a child to resist. Given half a chance.

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

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

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They Are Not “Little Adults”

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By Lina Younes

When I look at children today, they seem to be more advanced for their age. I’ve seen it in my own children. Even judging from my youngest who is now almost 11, many times she says things that are so insightful that show a wisdom well beyond her years.  I also marvel to see how children nowadays embrace technology with gusto. While I’m at step one trying to decipher the latest electronic gadget, my children usually are ten steps ahead of me. I’m not exaggerating.

So, while we often find children more precocious at an early age, this does not mean that we should treat them as “little adults.” In fact, their bodies are still developing. Consequently, they are more vulnerable to environmental risks. They breathe more air, drink and absorb more water and nutrients in proportion to their size and weight. Therefore, any exposure to chemicals and contaminants will have a greater impact on their developing organs and bodies. That applies to the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the area where they play and learn.

During the month of October, we celebrate Children’s Health Month to increase awareness on how we can better protect our children from environmental risk factors where they live and play. So, what can you do to protect children from environmental risks?

Let’s start with some tips to protect children in the area where we have the most control, our home.

  • Keep household chemicals and pesticides out of the reach of children to prevent poisonings
  • Read the label first when applying pesticides, household products, and medications, too
  • If you live in a home built before 1978, test your home for lead
  • Wash your children’s hands before they eat, wash their bottles, pacifiers and toys often

When your children go outside to school or to play, protect them from too much sun by having them wear hats and protective clothing. Children after six months may use sunscreen with SPF 15 or more. Apply it generously and often. If they have asthma, check the air quality index before they go outside. Learn about their asthma triggers to reduce their asthma attacks. Make sure they have an asthma action plan.

With these simple steps, you can ensure that your children will have a healthier environment during Children’s Health Month and year round.

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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Summer Tips: Drink Water!

By Lina Younes

Summer has started in earnest. Record high temperatures are blanketing the country, especially the eastern states. What is one of the most important things to do to survive this extreme heat? Drink water to stay hydrated!

The elderly, children and pregnant women are most susceptible to extreme temperatures. As part of the aging process, adults in their golden years tend to lose their sense of thirst. Thus, they are at a greater risk of dehydration and they are more vulnerable to environmental impacts. On the other hand, children can easily become dehydrate by outdoor activities because they lack the better judgement to recognize some of the signs of dehydration.

In children, what are some of these signs?

  • Decreased physical activity
  • Lack of tears when crying
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability and fussiness

If you don’t drink cool water regularly, dehydration can lead to heat stroke which can be life-threatening and requires immediate, medical attention.

What are some of the signs of heat stroke both in kids as in adults?

  • Skin is flushed, red and dry
  • Little or no sweating
  • Deep breathing
  • Dizziness, headache, and/or fatigue
  • Less urine is produced, of a dark yellowish color
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness
  • In adults, hallucinations and aggression

In addition to staying hydrated, here are some other tips to survive the summer heat:

  • Stay in the shade
  • If you have to work outside, try to do so in the early hours before the heat hits its peak
  • Dress appropriately with loose, light-weight clothing and light colors

So, remember to drink that cool water often. Enjoy the summer and stay safe. Do you have any recommendations on how to survive the heat?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

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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Everything Starts with a Question

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated by how children learn. In their early years, they are practically like sponges absorbing everything, constantly incorporating information and experiences from their environment. Their innate curiosity moves them to explore the world around them. They don’t have preconceived notions that impede learning. Nothing is too difficult. Technological advances are not a challenge to them. Observe how they figure out their toys and play with electronic gadgets. Adults need manuals. They just figure things out. Here I’m speaking from my experience with cell phones. I confess, sometimes I’m technologically challenged, to put it mildly. I approach some mobile technology with trepidation, while my children, even my 9 year old, use cell phones and mobile apps like they were second nature. I’m sure they’ll have a good laugh when they read this blog entry.

As children grow, they get to the stage of asking frequent questions. “But, why, Mommy?” While the frequent questions might test the patience of parents, they can serve as golden opportunities for us to teach children about the environment and love for science.

When you come to think of it, whether we are talking about environmental protection, the sciences, engineering,or inventions in general, everything starts with a simple question. What causes problem x, y, or z? How can I solve the problem? How do things work? How can I make things better?

I’m puzzled how children seem to “outgrow” that innate curiosity. Let’s foster that sense of wonder and love of learning. It will benefit us all and generations to come. Imagine: what would have happened if Sir Isaac Newton was not curious about apples falling down? Would he have been intrigued by the laws of physics? If he didn’t ask questions, would he have become a famous mathematician and scientist? Perhaps, but as I mentioned, it all starts with a question….

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. 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 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.