children

Attack on Asthma

In elementary school I played on a traveling soccer team. Before every game we would pack our bags. We were careful not to forget our uniform, shin guards, socks, and cleats. However, there was another item that was crucial to some of the members of the team: their inhalers. My best friend played on the same team that I did and before we would leave for our games her parents would always remind her to grab her inhaler. I remember having to get her inhaler for her during some of her asthma attacks, and it wasn’t always on the soccer field. Sometimes it was at school or in our homes.

Asthma has proven to be one of the most common serious chronic diseases of childhood. Schools and homes can harbor triggers that can lead to trouble breathing and asthma attacks.

Exposures that can trigger asthma attacks include:
·    Secondhand smoke
·    Dust mites
·    Mold
·    Cockroaches
·    Pet dander
·    Ozone and particle pollution

While most of these are exposures that you can look for indoors, there is also a way to become more aware of the quality of the outdoor air in your area. The Air Quality Index (AQI) , shown during your local weather report, can be a useful tool to provide information on the potential health risks of the air in your area.

Some children with asthma can have difficulty playing outside when there are high levels of pollutants in the air. Even small amounts of outdoor physical activity, such as walking, can trigger an asthma attack when the air quality is poor.

Some measures that can be made to help manage asthma include:

  • Eliminate smoking around children or the areas in which they live, learn, and play.
  • Use integrated pest management (IPM) to help prevent pest problems.
  • Fix leaks and moisture problems indoors.
  • Dust and vacuum regularly in areas that kids will be.
  • Locate animals away from sensitive children and ventilation systems.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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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Healthy Living at Summer Camp

From the time that I was very young my family and I have been attending a summer camp in southern Michigan. Camp has always been a big part of my life, so when I became a counselor for the camp three years ago, I made it a goal of mine to give my campers the same, positive, experience my counselors gave to me. However, I knew there was one aspect of being a counselor that I wanted to improve on from the counselors of the past.

As a camper I always got sick as summer camp is a place for kids to play around in dirt, the lake, and be in close quarters with one another. I realized that there were little things that not only I, but other counselors and kids could do to prevent sickness. Campers and counselors were required to wash and sanitize their hands before every meal, shower at scheduled times, change out of wet clothing and swimsuits when not in the water, and clean the cabins daily. I knew these practices were helping the campers’ health as I noticed both my campers and I were getting sick less often.

Two summers ago a large storm swept through the camp, causing many of the cabins to flood. Limited space required the counselors and campers to stay in the water-ridden cabins. I realized quickly that this was not good for our health. My fellow counselors and I asked to be moved out of the cabin, explaining that we thought our kids were getting sick because of the forming mold. We were moved to different cabins that had some room and immediately saw our campers becoming healthier.

After the flood, action was taken immediately to solve the flooding problem. Erosion, due to campers walking off paths, and general rainfall was a main cause of the floods. Construction was done to help move run-off water away from the cabins.

Although children are usually at summer camp for a relatively small amount of time, it is important that they stay healthy while having fun! Summer camp provides a fun “getaway” from daily living, but also provides a chance for kids to learn a variety of life values, including independence. It is not only up to the counselors, but the campers to achieve healthy practices. While the counselors must teach, the campers must perform.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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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Health Effects of Homeless Children

In high school I volunteered for a non-profit organization called “Stepping Stones,” a program that provides transitional housing for children. I set up a table outside of the cafeteria to help raise money and spread information about the organization. There was another student helping me. I didn’t know her very well, but I decided to start a conversation with her as I knew I would be volunteering with her for the day. I soon learned that she was a part of the Stepping Stones program. At that moment I realized that homelessness does not always have the usual, negative stereotype. The truth is that that the majority of homeless people in America are children.

The recession has caused many single parents to lose their jobs and remain unemployed, making the problem worse. This leaves families unable to pay bills and to lose their homes. Children are forced to live in undesirable conditions because their parents are unable to bring in a sufficient income. It is a somewhat silent issue because of the embarrassment that comes with being homeless. Families will only turn to homeless shelters and soup kitchens as a last resort because the embarrassment is more hurtful than living in adverse environments.

These children must deal with stress on a daily basis. Even those who are not yet homeless but rather in jeopardy of becoming homeless or living in poverty must face the stress of potential homelessness. Children under such conditions worry about getting enough food, whether or when they will be kicked out of the house, how friends will react once homelessness is announced, and whether the child will be kicked out of school because of the lack of residency.

The stressors of being homeless can lead to many homeless children feeling depressed, causing detrimental health effects. Stress over long periods of time can cause the immune system, digestion system, and growth and reproductive systems to slow down or stop. Children are more at risk as they are still in the growing process. This is when psychological issues turn into physical. Not only is a child feeling depressed, stressed, and isolated, but the child is now suffering from health problems as well.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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 Great Outdoors”

The great snow storm that hit the East Coast last week left all of us in DC wondering what to do without work, school, and many other things that were shut down due to the snow. As soon as the snow hit, I was outside. Throughout the week I was determined to get out of my apartment and enjoy the snow as much as I could. I was outside a lot, but I was not the only one! People filled the streets, walking to the huge snowball fight in the city, shoveling snow, and sledding wherever possible.

This was shocking to see, as most of the news shows urged people to stay inside. It was great to see a substantial amount of kids outside, and admittedly, a little shocking as well. I expected the kids to stay inside to watch their TVs, text on their cell phones, and play video games. However, kids filled the streets and the sledding hills.

It is important for children to get outdoors! Not only are they missing out on the beauty of the world, but perhaps it is part of the reason why there is an increase in childhood obesity.

The No Child Left Inside Act is a good start for children to get outside and learn about the environment during the school day, but it is not enough. It is important for parents to encourage their kids to go outside and play, and even better if they join them in the play! If you’re having difficulties thinking of things to do in your own backyard or neighborhood, here are a few activities I used to do when I was younger:

  • Plant a garden
  • Go on a bike ride
  • Play basketball
  • Roller-skate
  • Play in the sprinkler
  • Rake leaves
  • Walk the dog

So, the big question is what will happen when all the snow has melted away, and the power is back on, and the children are back in school and parents back at work? Will children and their parents still continue to play outside? We all made the best of the snow and had our fun, but the fun doesn’t have to stop there!

What outdoors activities do you and your children do for fun?

About the author: Nikki Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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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Radon Reflections at the Tools for Schools Symposium

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Each year, EPA’s Indoor Environments Division hosts an indoor air quality, or IAQ, symposium in Washington D.C. This year’s 10th IAQ Tools for Schools National Symposium took place January 14 to 16 — during National Radon Action Month. As a scientist for EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, naturally I was delighted to have the opportunity to present radon information at the symposium.

Workgroup meeting at Indoor Air Quality SymposiumThis year’s symposium featured five school districts with specific IAQ design challenges. Each attendee played an integral role as a design team member, formulating strategies to help a school district improve IAQ management. As I interacted with teams, I discovered IAQ stakeholders in many forms: facilities managers, building technicians, nurses, principals, government and even parents. Despite their different roles, people were passionate for school health and worked together to produce excellent solutions in a short period of time.

Discussions about radon were abundant at the symposium. While sipping my latte, a man started a conversation about radon in his school district. He whispered as if it were a secret, “We build radon prevention right into our new school designs.” My eyes lit up so bright; I think I startled him, or maybe he thought I was going to hug him. The importance of preventing pollutants from entering a building is no secret; think about how vapor barriers, gutters and even window screens keep a number of pollutants safely out of the indoor environment.

I overheard someone say, “How will they know if they don’t test?” I smiled and shook my head vigorously in agreement. Clearly this person had just grasped how important it is to test for radon. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, three children were recognized during the National Radon Poster Contest awards luncheon, and EPA’s Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, touted the benefits of recognizing radon in school IAQ.

As I reflect on activities at the symposium, it’s clear that radon is certainly at the forefront of school IAQ management. My hope is that symposium attendees will share their reflections on the symposium here or blog about it on radonleaders.org. Please comment, reply and get your story out there.

About the Author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public 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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Kids, Creativity and the National Radon Poster Contest

January is National Radon Action Month, or NRAM. Read more about EPA’s radon activities and what others are doing to reduce their radon exposure.

Two months ago, I helped judge the 2010 National Radon Poster Contest.

What amazed me most was the amount of creativity in the posters submitted by children, aged 9 to 14. Several times I assumed I was staring at an entry from a junior high student and it turned out to be from a fourth grader … a fourth grader! It gave me a great opportunity to appreciate children as messengers for environmental causes. The amount of poster entries this year was incredible: 216 schools in 36 states, one U.S. territory and seven tribal nations created a total of 2,862 posters!

Creators of the winning 2010 posters are being recognized today at the Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Symposium in Washington, D.C. The national first place winner is pictured in this column and you can find posters for all national, state, territorial and tribal nation winners here. Posters were judged on criteria set by the National Safety Council, Kansas State University, and Environmental Protection Agency, co-sponsors of the 2010 contest.

It’s important to get children involved early with simple messages. Some messages we stress through the Radon Poster contest are:

  • Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that can reach harmful levels if trapped indoors.
  • Radon comes from the soil underneath your home.
  • Radon causes lung cancer.

Simple messages to children inspire adults to take action. Our action message is clear, “Test. Fix. Save a life.” That is, test for radon in your home, school and other buildings; fix existing radon problems; and build new homes to be radon resistant.

Kansas State University’s National Radon Program will co-sponsor upcoming radon poster contests. Get involved! Promote the National Radon Poster Contest at your school. Organize a local awards ceremony to honor the winner selected by your school, community or state. Contact your state radon program to get started.

Children play key roles as messengers. They are our radon, and environmental, advocates of the future.

About the Author: Rebecca L. Reindel, MFS, is an Association of Schools of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow in the Indoor Environments Division, part of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air. She is completing her Master’s Degree in Public Health at the George Washington University. She holds a Master’s in Forensic Toxicology, has previously addressed workplace exposures for taxi drivers and is an instructor at GWU.

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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Cupcakes or Carrots?

Taking full advantage of last weekend’s surprisingly warm fall weather, I made a trip to Old Town Alexandria. What a perfect place to spend a Saturday afternoon. With all the walking I did, I needed something to quell my unruly stomach grumbles. I decided to allow myself to succumb to one sweet in particular: cupcakes. The place was busy with lots of children eagerly waiting. I almost thought about buying a dozen. Then my college wallet kicked in and I decided to purchase just one. However, after my return home, I got to thinking about what I had eaten that day and realized: A.) Yes, that cupcake was good and B.) I hadn’t eaten the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables for the day! While I like a piece of broccoli about as much as the next 8 year old, I really try my hardest to get in as much fruits and veggies as I can. Fruit can easily be enjoyed like a dessert! And vegetables can be eaten with all sorts of dishes. Here are some of my other thoughts:

  • One way to really teach and attract kids to healthy items is to get them involved in the process. It helps you out and makes your food healthier at the same time! By safely allowing older kids to help or just observe you peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables, it will help them feel a part of the process and removes dirt, bacteria, and pesticides.
  • I also know that water is appealing to kids and getting them involved in washing fruits and vegetables can be easy. The sound itself of the water in the sink has a calming affect and removing traces of chemicals and bacteria from your food will make it safer and taste even better.
  • Also, selecting a variety of foods can be helpful to engage kids so they don’t have to eat cooked carrots every night of the week. A variety will give you a better mix of nutrients.

All in all, vegetables and fruits really can be just as appealing as a cupcake! Check out other healthy, sensible food tips. Use the occasional cupcake as a treat and give kids the chance and opportunity to love eating fruits and veggies!

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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A Scientific Birthday Party

My youngest daughter is still at an age where birthday parties are big events in her life. No sooner that we’re done with one birthday she begins talking about new ideas for the next one. Given that her birthday is in the late fall, pool parties are out of the equation. Outdoor parties around local parks are also out of the question. So, indoor birthday parties are the norm in her case.

Birthday parties at play rooms seem to be pretty popular nowadays. We’ve already had the traditional entertainers for children’s parties such as magicians, clowns, etc. So, in an effort to do something creative, I gave my eldest daughter the task of finding something new. After some research, she definitely found a non-traditional entertainer—a scientist! Well, my colleagues at EPA might not be happy for having an entertainer and a scientist in the same sentence, but I have to admit, this party was very entertaining and even memorable.

The scientist came with her lab coat and set up her “lab” for the children. She talked about chemicals and then had the children do some experiments using some basic household products.  They made silly putty and colorful slime and even cotton candy! Each child left the party with their treasures and the hands-on experience that science can be fun.

Here at EPA we like to encourage children to think critically so they can become future environmentalists. As parents, we can guide then and encourage them in these efforts at home. It can be an enjoyable experience for all.  During Children’s Health Month, let’s teach our children how we all can make a difference to the planet, children’s health, and the future. Let’s plant the seed of environmentalism in their hearts today. That’s fertile ground. We’ll all enjoy the bounty tomorrow.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. 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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Question of the Week: How do you protect children from mercury?

Exposure to mercury can result from misuse or overuse of mercury-containing products.  Even something that seems as small as a broken thermometer needs to be cleaned up and disposed of properly. October is Children’s Health Month.

How do you protect children from mercury?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

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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Take Some Common Sense With You When You Go To The Pool

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

image of a toddler standing in a kiddie pool wearing sunglasses, a hat and a life jacketMemorial Day Weekend unofficially indicates the beginning of the summer season in the US Mainland. With this new season, many Americans resume another summer ritual—the trek to the neighborhood pool. Whether it’s at the end of a long work day or during the weekend, many eager children successfully drag their parents for some playtime at the pool. Don’t get me wrong. I love the summer! I enjoy warm sandy beaches and swimming in the pool. However, I don’t know if getting older has made me wiser or wary, but sometimes I think twice when going to the pool, especially kiddy pools, where there are too many diaper-clad children.

In researching the subject of this blog, I confirmed my suspicions. Across the United States, there has been an increase in the number of Recreational Water Illness (RWI) outbreaks during the past twenty years associated with swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, and other bodies of water. You would think that the antimicrobials and chlorine used to treat pool water would be enough to keep the pools safe from some waterborne germs and bacteria such as Crypto (short for cryptosporidium) and E coli, to name a few.

The fact is you need much more than chemicals to purify the water. A good dose of common sense is essential. Here are some basic guidelines for healthy swimming: First of all—do not swim when you have diarrhea. Don’t let your children swim either if they have diarrhea since swimming will only help spread germs in the water and make others sick. Secondly, avoid swallowing pool water. This is sometimes easier said than done with little kids, but you have to teach them at an early age. Good hygiene practices are essential in and outside the pool. Take a shower before swimming. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Take your kids on bathroom breaks or diaper checks often even if they don’t mention the need to relieve themselves. By the time you hear “Mommy, I have to go”, it might be too late. Change diapers in a bathroom or diaper-changing area. Please don’t change them at poolside. Above all, please wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Sounds simple, right? It’s common sense. With some simple steps, you can protect yourself, your family and friends. Oh, by the way, before you head to the pool or beach, don’t forget to put on the sunscreen! Enjoy the summer!

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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