Children’s Health Month

Celebrating Children’s Health Month

By Maureen O’Neill

So why are you reading this?  Are you interested, worried or want to take action?  For you then, here’s some good and bad news.

Let’s do the good first.  There is a wealth of information on every children’s health topic you can imagine.  Chances are, if you are reading this, you’ve already been exposed to topics like lead, methylmercury, PCBs and goodness knows what else.  If you haven’t and want an overview, you can check out the websites of EPA, CDC, NIEHS and many others.

I am a professed info junkie and although I try, I can’t keep up with everything.  I don’t know anyone who can.  So I focus in on what I need to know and be sure I’m looking at some of the topical sources to see what’s going on.  My own favorite for this is Environmental Health News which lands in your mailbox every day.

Are you a parent or someone worried about a child’s exposure and what it means?  Do you need to get professional advice?  We have a Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit serving the region (NJ, NY, Puerto Rico and the USVI) at Mt. Sinai.  These are docs who specialize in environmental health topics and you can get a free phone consultation.  The PEHSU also provide clinical consultation and education for health care professionals, public health officials, and community organizations with concerns regarding children’s environmental health.  See more here.

Here’s the not so good part.  There’s a lot of information on children’s health out there, of varying quality, and many of the topics have emerging science.  That means that frequently there aren’t good clear yes/no answers that we all want to have.  So, what to do?

I think the smartest thing is to be protective of your kids, have fun with them and practice the best tips I know.  Go to http://www2.epa.gov/children to see how to help your kids breathe easier, protect them from lead poisoning, keep pesticides and other toxics away from children and protect them from carbon monoxide, contaminated fish, radon and other environmental hazards.  We can’t protect children from everything, but if you follow these steps, you are giving your children the best.

About the author: Maureen O’Neill is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Region’s Office of Strategic Programs. Her focus is targeting environmental programs and resources to issues impacting environmental health, with a particular focus on at-risk children. Prior to her New York assignment, her work involved water issues, both domestic and international. She has been involved with the United States Government Middle East Peace Process focusing on water issues.

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

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Children’s Health Month

 By Aaron Ferster

Chidren's Health Month LogoI can’t remember exactly when I turned against the “three second rule”—that myth that the piece of food you just dropped is safe to eat as long as you retrieve it from the ground within three seconds. It was probably shortly after my own kids first started to attempt to walk and snack at the same time, another exciting, terrifying period when you feel the need to watch their every move. 

Witnessing your kid stick even one, dirt-and-leaf-covered lollipop back into their mouths after fishing it out of the playground mulch pit will convert even the most ardent three-second-rule devotee.

Picking food up from the ground, playing in dirt, exploring the world through touch and taste are a normal part of child development: they are also some of the many behaviors that may mean trouble for young children.  From an environmental health perspective, these types of behaviors may increase the risk of exposure to potentially harmful chemicals or pesticides.

What’s more, pound-for-pound children eat, drink, and breathe in more than do adults. And because their bodies are still growing and developing, children are often more vulnerable to the ill effects of environmental exposures from pesticides and other chemicals.

Keeping children safe is the focus across the government this month: Children’s Health Month. As the Proclamation released by President Obama stated earlier today:

A safe environment in which our children can live and grow is essential to their well-being. Because clean water is the foundation for healthy communities, we are working to reduce contaminants in our drinking water by updating standards and better protecting our water sources from pollution. We are also building on the successes of the Clean Air Act to improve our air quality and help decrease harmful toxins that can lead to acute bronchitis, asthma, cancer, and impaired development.

Clean water, clean air, and fewer toxins in the environment will certainly go a long way toward protecting children. EPA scientists have been working to support efforts to achieve those goals for more than four decades.

Today, EPA research is providing a better understanding of how young people at every stage of development can be exposed to harmful substances in the environment, and what those exposures might mean to their health today and well into the future.

What those scientists and their partners are learning has real impact, supplying real-world information and illuminating actions that parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, public health officials, and others can take to protect children. It’s enough to permanently retire the old three-second-rule.

We’ll be sharing stories from that work throughout the month right here on It All Starts with Science. Please check back to learn more.  

About the Author: EPA science writer Aaron Ferster is the editor of the “It All Starts with Science” blog, and the father of two teenage daughters. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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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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Improving Air Quality in Schools to Celebrate Children’s Health Month 2011

By Lou Witt, Indoor Environments Division and Kathy Seikel, Office of Children’s Health Protection

With an emphasis on healthy schools, this year’s Children’s Health Month brings back memories of life as a student. When we were children, not many people focused on indoor air quality in schools. Until fairly recently, few made removing asthma triggers a priority. Industrial strength pesticides and cleaners were used liberally, and teachers smoked in their own separate lounge. Times have changed. Now we understand how important a healthy environment is to the learning process.

Children are uniquely affected by environmental hazards due to their body size and their immune and respiratory systems not being fully developed. A well located, thoughtfully designed, soundly built and efficiently operated school can help ensure a safer, healthier learning environment for children, allowing them to thrive and succeed.

Join EPA this October and throughout the year as we work with partners to promote healthy environments where children live, learn and play. Proven, cost-effective and often simple actions can directly benefit everyone’s health. Indoors, testing for radon, removing furry pets and stuffed animals from classrooms, using low/no VOC products and going smoke-free are common. The physical location of a school also can affect students. A properly located building can help reduce children’s exposure to harmful pollutants by ensuring a potential school site is safe from contaminants and environmental hazards.

If your community is renovating a school, building a new one or wanting to improve the health and performance of students, Children’s Health Month is the perfect time to get involved. Two great places to visit that will get you started are EPA’s new School Siting Guidelines, which can help mitigate outdoor environmental risks; and the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, which provides guidance and helpful instructions for teachers, staff, students and the community.

Better indoor air quality protects children’s health. To see how you can help create a healthier school environment for youth in your community, visit www.epa.gov/schools/ and www.epa.gov/iaq/schools

Learn more and tell us how you celebrated Children’s Health Month by promoting green, clean and healthy schools!

About the authors:

Kathy Seikel, a senior policy analyst with EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, has worked for EPA since 1984 and remembers when, as a college student in the 70s, smoking by students and teachers was allowed in all classrooms.

Lou Witt, a Program Analyst in EPA’s Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, is promoting indoor air quality risk reduction

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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Educational Resources & Activities

By Carly Carroll

Going into classrooms and sharing environmental has always been my favorite part of being an environmental educator. One of my favorite experiences was participating in EPA’s Science Day at an elementary school in North Carolina. The teachers and students were always so happy to open their doors and let EPA scientists and community volunteers come in and share a hands-on activity with them. My favorite activities were those that really got the students involved and doing something – like measuring how much electricity various appliances used, or measuring lung capacity and learning about air quality. Seeing these activities lead to teachers asking if EPA had any resources they could use in to bring more environmental science into their classrooms. The answer is yes!

In addition to what EPA has already developed in the past, The Office of Environmental Education is working with various program offices to develop resources highlighting upcoming important issues and monthly themes.

  • October is Children’s Health Month! Check out our series of resources and activities on protecting children’s health at home and at school!
  • Students can learn how to protect their own health with activities on lead, mold, and indoor air quality.
  • All of EPA’s student and teacher resources are in one easy place! Check out the recently updated Students and Teachers page for games, factsheets, teacher resources, activities, and more!

About the author: Carly Carroll is an Environmental Education Specialist with EPA’s Office of Environmental Education in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the office in 2011, she worked as a Student Services Contractor at EPA in Research Triangle Park, assisting with environmental education and outreach.

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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ACE Is The Place For Children’s Environmental Health Indicators

By Greg Miller

This is the report that drew me to EPA 10 years ago. I was a recent graduate from University of Michigan’s School of Public Health when I saw a job posting for work on environmental health policy. I had no idea what a unique opportunity I was being given.

On my first day at EPA I got to work on America’s Children and the Environment – fondly known as “ACE”. It is a report of children’s environmental health indicators. Like many people at the time, I had very little understanding of what indicators were. Since that day ten years ago, indicators of health and welfare have spread across the government as a means of providing summary information on status and trends. Our children’s environmental health indicators help us answer important questions, such as: how many children live in areas where air pollution levels are of concern? Are we continuing to make progress in reducing childhood blood lead levels? How has the prevalence of childhood asthma changed in recent years?

This year at EPA, we are preparing a new edition of America’s Children and the Environment. ACE, Third Edition will provide quantitative information from a variety of sources to show trends in environmental contaminants in air, drinking water, food, and soil; concentrations of contaminants measured in the bodies of mothers and children; and childhood health outcomes that may be influenced by environmental factors, such as asthma. New indicators will show the percentage of children in homes with lead dust hazards; biomonitoring data for phthalates and bisphenol A; and percentage of babies born preterm. We hope that people will use the report to better understand the environmental health challenges faced by children in the U.S. Furthermore, we hope the report will be a useful tool for policy makers to identify and address children’s health issues in their communities.

I doubt this blog post adequately conveys my excitement about this report. Working on children’s environmental health indicators is an absolute privilege, and I am endlessly thankful to the American public for allowing me this opportunity. If you share even one nanogram of my excitement, please visit the America’s Children and the Environment website to see our current indicators. You can also sign up to receive updates by email about any new information posted to the website and updates on the development of ACE3.

About the author: Greg Miller works on the ACE report in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection.

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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Why Is My Child Sick?

By Kara Belle

In 2002, we moved from Texas to Atlanta with my perfectly healthy 8-month old. Within a month, my daughter was in the hospital, face flush, lips blue, high fever and straining for every breath. The doctors would treat her, we would go home, and two to three weeks later we would be back to the emergency room for the same thing. It got so bad my daughter’s pediatrician requested that I remove my daughter from day care for six weeks so that her body would have time to heal and recover. My mom kept my daughter in her home during this time and miraculously she had no breathing problems, no fever, and looked great. I brought her home and within hours she was ill. This was my ah-ha moment. It was my apartment! Upon close inspection, I found mold underneath sinks and around windows in my apartment. I also recounted the numerous times her daycare would flood during heavy rains. In addition, we lived a stone’s throw from a major interstate. I later learned outdoor pollutants like emissions from cars, factories, and power plants can contribute to asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses.

My daughter was diagnosed with asthma but no one ever sent me home with tips on what environmental exposures may be triggering her asthma and respiratory infections. I can’t tell you how much I have learned since then. I bought books, searched the Internet, talked to other moms and found some really great information on asthma triggers and allergens both indoors and outdoors. I don’t want other parents or caregivers to go through an arduous and unnecessary learning curve as I did.

Most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of working with your child’s doctor to help create an Asthma Action Plan to prevent future asthma attacks. This is an essential preventative step toward managing asthma. Although, there is no cure for asthma yet, asthma can be controlled through medical treatment and management of environmental triggers. Had I known about the Asthma Action Plan earlier, my sweet baby girl would not have had to suffer needlessly as she did.

I always try to share my story with other parents who are becoming sadly aware of the asthma epidemic. Please join me and share your story. The more we talk about the importance of a healthy environment the better we can champion children’s health as parents, as a community, and as a nation.

About the author: Kara Belle works in the Office of Children’s Health Protection

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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Children's Health in Indian Country

By Margo Young

As a mom of two young children I relate to any parent or caregiver trying to create a healthy environment for children to thrive and grow. As a public health worker in the field of children’s health protection, I am also acutely aware that the environments we raise our children in this country are vastly different from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state, and that these differences impact the health and well-being of our children.

This is especially true in Indian Country. While many Native American populations maintain intricate and ecologically interdependent relationships with the natural environment, these relationships have been impacted by environmental pollution, changes in subsistence lifestyles and political isolation, which threaten the health, wellness, and way of life of tribal communities. In light of Children’s Health Month, it is appropriate to highlight these differences, but also embrace the common goal of protecting our most vulnerable populations of children.

Children often bear a disproportionate impact from environmental contaminants. Living conditions, walkable communities, access to play areas and health care and limited resources are some of the challenges that tribal communities face in addressing environmental health issues. American Indian and Alaska Native children are more than twice as likely to suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases and are more likely to be hospitalized from these chronic conditions. These illnesses can be caused or exacerbated by substandard housing conditions and poor indoor air quality, including mold and moisture, wood burning, the use of pesticides and other chemicals, smoking and inadequate ventilation. Fixing and addressing these problems can prevent certain life-long impacts on children.

The good news is that there are many actions we can take to address these issues and make homes and communities healthier for children. You can find information and tips on improving indoor air quality in tribal communities from EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tribal Partners Program. Protecting the health of children is a compelling motivation to improve our environment — during Children’s Health Month and throughout the year. Take the initiative now and find out what you can do to improve children’s health.

About the Authors: Margo Young lives in Seattle and is the Region 10 Children’s Environmental Health and Environmental Education Coordinator and has been with EPA for over 5 years.

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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From Railroad Lines and Landfills to Running Trails and Playgrounds: Exercise for the Whole Family Right in Your Own Backyard

By Melissa Greer Dreyfus

As the oppressive heat of summer is now fading into fall, I am able to take more time to actually enjoy my surroundings in the great outdoors during my weekend runs. (This is in contrast to summer outdoor running, where my goal is to make it to the next drinking fountain without over-heating.) I’ve always enjoyed trail running as a means to escape some of the traffic and intensity of living in the Nation’s Capitol area. I’ve had the opportunity to test out several of the great scenic running/biking trails in the area including the Mount Vernon Trail, Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal Trail, Rock Creek Park Trail, Rock Creek Trail and Capital Crescent Trail.

Amazingly, the Capital Crescent Trail and thousands of miles of other trail systems across the country were constructed along old railroad routes. The Capital Crescent Trail follows the route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Georgetown Branch rail line. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a non-profit organization that is “dedicated to assisting local communities in converting unused railroad corridors into trails”. There are many trails not only in the DC Metro area, but across the country. Trail information is accompanied by local resources such as hotels, to plan a complete getaway virtually anywhere in the U.S.

Not only can you exercise on former railroad routes converted to trails, but land reuse options also encourage a variety of community recreation activities.  The Superfund Redevelopment Program at EPA is helping communities return some of the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites to safe and productive uses. Along with cleaning up these Superfund sites and making them protective of human health and the environment, the Agency is working with communities and other partners in considering future use opportunities and integrating appropriate reuse options into the cleanup process. Communities across the country now have areas such as recreational model airplane flying fields, open space, athletic fields soccer, football and baseball, playgrounds, and equestrian trails on land previously contaminated and unavailable for public use.

Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are critical for combating the obesity epidemic among children in this country. By providing a variety of fun activities, and exercising as a family, we can lead a healthy lifestyle and set a good example for kids to follow as they grow. Along with the great sight-seeing, these trails and recreation facilities offer excellent options for outdoor activity close to home at little to no cost.

Grab your friends and family and explore options for outdoor activities in your own backyard!

About the author: Melissa Greer Dreyfus is an Environmental Health Scientist in the Community Involvement and Program Initiatives Branch in EPA’s Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation in Arlington, VA.

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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Science Wednesday:Children’s Health and Sustaining Our Future

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Paul Anastas, Ph.D.

Last week, I had the pleasure of conducting a green chemistry experiment with some students who joined me at the Marian Koshland Science Museum here in Washington, DC. We were helping to kick off events leading up to the USA Science and Engineering Festival that will take place on the National Mall October 23 and 24.

The festival organizers could not have picked a more appropriate time to celebrate science and engineering in a way that will spark kid’s interest. October is Children’s Health Month, a time to reflect on the importance of building a sustainable society for our children.

There was a time when it was commonly assumed that the lives of one generation would be no different than the lives of the next—that the status quo would be maintained. Over time, however, people came to understand that we could work to make our children’s lives even better than our own.

It was advancements in science and technology that catalyzed this change in thinking. But it turned out it was not so simple. We now know that many of the same technologies and advancements that were meant to improve the lives of future generations were also adversely impacting the environment, and could even have unintended consequences on children.

Children’s Health Month is an opportune time to ask ourselves a vital question: have we incorporated an understanding of these unintended consequences into the design of new products and technologies?

Today we have the opportunity to couple our expertise in understanding the problems we face with an ability to design next-generation chemicals that reduce hazard. The principles of green chemistry give us this opportunity.

We must combine the best of our intellect and action to design a tomorrow that is sustainable for our children.  We must direct our highest degree of knowledge toward producing products and technologies that won’t impair reproduction or development.

It’s time to bring all we have to bear on the design of a sustainable tomorrow. There is no better time to start than Children’s Health Month.

About the author: Paul T. Anastas is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. At the time President Barrack Obama nominated him to, Anastas was the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale University.

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.