children’s health

Acting on Climate Change for our Children’s Sake

By Gina McCarthy and Nsedu Obot Witherspoon

The missions of the Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) align for a simple reason: healthy people depend on a healthy environment to live, work, and play in.

Scientific research shows our children are especially vulnerable to environmental health hazards. October is Children’s Health Month, and as we work to raise awareness and act on health risks, we need to keep children’s health considerations and concerns at the forefront of our research, practice, and policy decisions. We need to be especially vigilant as we face new health risks from climate change.

Warmer temperatures from climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, are making allergy seasons longer and worsening smog, exacerbating children’s asthma. One in ten kids in the U.S. already suffers from asthma, and these numbers could go up. Hotter weather is also increasing moisture in the air in some locations. More moisture means more mold and mildew—which also cause respiratory problems.

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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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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

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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EPA Grant Makes Great Strides in Education and Health

One of the many things we do in the EPA Denver office is work on education and children’s health. We wanted to share some work that Denver based National Jewish Health completed as part of an environmental education grant. This grant allowed National Jewish Health to work with regional projects that focused on environmental education and health. One of the objectives is to work with research organizations to bring the best science to address children’s health.

National Jewish Health is a Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Center (Children’s Centers). Jointly funded by EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Children’s Centers conduct research to understand the complex interactions between the environment, genetics, and other factors, and how those interactions may affect children’s health.

Air quality and health was a program that allowed a network within EPA Region 8 to increase skills related to air quality and human health, and provide environmental education to schools, higher education institutions, and not for profit organizations to help tailor implementation and stewardship activities to meet the needs of their community.

image of two girls standing in front of lockers at a display table

East Middle School in Aurora, Colorado during a back to school night discussing asthma and environmental impacts on lung health.

In total, there were 19 projects reaching over 25,000 youth in EPA Region 8. More than 15 lesson plans/resources were developed and nine public schools, three higher education institutions, and seven community organizations were funded to conduct a variety of activities in diverse settings. Here are some of the projects:

  • The Clean Air Engines Off! program is an anti-idling education program offered through the American Lung Association to local schools.
  • At the Conservation Center in Paonia, Colorado, students conducted investigations on topics including airplane emissions, indoor air quality, effects of train traffic and the creation of carbon dioxide during physical exertion. Students presented their findings to the public through a community meeting organized by The Conservation Center.
  • At the Denver Green School students’ projects included connecting basic circuits to a microcontroller and programming it both to control the circuit and to interface with a user. The students worked with environmental sensors to measure temperature, humidity, and air quality.
  • At the John McConnell Math and Science Center in Grand Junction, Colorado an interactive, computer‐based program and kiosk was developed to teach students about:
    1. Formation and sources of ground-based ozone
    2. Differences between “good” and “bad” ozone
    3. Effects of ozone on lung health and the environment, and
    4. Exploration of what individuals can do to reduce the creation of ozone.
  • The Utah Society for Environmental Education provided skills in linking air quality and health and offered three workshops reaching teachers from along the Wasatch Front.

It’s very rewarding to see the successful outcomes of our grant programs. These grants allow environmental programs to reach a greater audience than EPA could reach alone.

For more information about protecting children’s health, visit www2.epa.gov/children.

About the authors: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8. Kim Bartels is the Children’s Environmental Health Coordinator for EPA Region 8. The authors are sharing these stories to celebrate Children’s Health Month.

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: Now That I’m a Mom

By Jessica Orquina

This is my first Children’s Health Month as a mother. Last October, I wrote about how my concerns and habits had changed as an expectant mother. Now, my son is almost one year old and I’m still learning how to best protect his health, and our planet.

Since the baby arrived, my husband and I have been making sure our house is clean and dust-free to help him breath better. And, I made sure that the toys I buy are safe and kept clean.

Recently, my son started scooting around and becoming curious about everything he can get his hands on. So, I’ve been baby proofing our apartment. We use safer cleaning products, like those with the Design for the Environment (DfE) label, but I still make sure they are all out of reach of small hands. I’ve stored them all up and out of reach and put locks on the cabinet doors.

It’s important to remember, children are not little adults. They are more vulnerable to environmental exposures because their systems are still developing, they often play on the floor or ground, and they like to put things in their mouths. As parents we need to remember to keep their environments safe and protect them.

Here are some tips to protect your kids from environmental health risks.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of Public Affairs as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served military and commercial airline pilot. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and son.

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 the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest – Working with Communities for Environmental Protection: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Gina Bonifacino

My Peace Corps site assignment was not what I would have conjured in my mind as a kid, dreaming about a future adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in some isolated corner of the world. San Jose de Buenavista, Antique was a busy, medium-sized provincial capital in the Philippines.

I was assigned to the Provincial Planning Office to work on coastal management. With a very general assignment, and being new to the country and the community, my first challenge was figuring out how a fresh college graduate, new to the language and culture of the Philippines, could help.

A co-worker at the Provincial Planning Office was very excited about piloting a new method of gathering planning data, Participatory Resource Assessment (PCRA). As I learned more about this tool, I became interested in exploring it as a means to connect with communities and better understand coastal issues in the province.

After consulting with provincial colleagues and getting support from local officials, we planned and held a series of assessments with five coastal communities. These assessments brought community members and officials together to map and document issues in their communities.

The biggest issues that the communities identified – health concerns, livelihood and environmental degradation – were all closely linked. Many homes didn’t have access to clean water or sanitation. Women had to spend nearly an hour per day just to collect clean water. Without proper sanitation, waterways were polluted and children became sick. Most of these families subsisted on local fisheries, but had in recent years seen numbers declining due to encroachment from illegal fishing boats within municipal waters.

I’d have never been able to understand these issues without direct community engagement. And, I knew that solutions, like establishing a local fisheries policing force, required community involvement. It was incredibly rewarding to work and make friends with the community members.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve worked with the communities in the Philippines through the Peace Corps; however, that experience continues to serve me as an EPA employee in our Seattle office. After data showed that poor burning practices and burning in old, dirty woodstoves and fireplaces contributed to unhealthy particulate levels in many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan communities, I drew on my Peace Corps experience, and worked with local agencies, EPA’s Headquarters Office of Air and Radiation, and local communities on a campaign to reduce particulate matter from wood smoke.

The campaign grew and is now known as Burn Wise. As a result of EPA’s work with communities, many households have been able to help reduce particulate pollution from woodsmoke, increase heating efficiency, and improve the air they breathe inside of their homes.

About the author: Gina Bonifacino is with Region 10’s Puget Sound Program.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

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 Latino Asthma Conundrum

By Elias Rodriguez

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive

It was a hazy and hot day as I sat in my grade school New York City classroom. Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to my classmate’s wheezing and labored breathing. Àngel was one of the biggest kids in our class, but he was clearly in distress and the memory of his pain is vivid. I now understand that my friend was having an asthma attack. Thankfully, our teacher knew precisely what to do and she had his inhaler inside her desk and ready.

Our Manhattan public school was located adjacent to a major highway known as the FDR Drive, which snakes up Manhattan’s eastside near the Williamsburg Bridge. The combination of high population density, cars, trucks and industrial activity was a recipe for dismal  air quality.

Àngel and many of my inner-city cohort shared a Puerto Rican ancestry. To this day, I remain puzzled by the disproportionately high asthma rate among Latinos. Latinos are 30 percent more likely to go to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. For reasons that are not fully understood, Puerto Ricans have double the asthma rate as compared to the overall Latino population.

While asthma rates have increased in the general population over the past two decades- what accounts for the alarming disparities? Are the reasons economic? Do groups in the lower income strata demonstrate more adverse health effects as a result of limited resources and less access to quality medical care?  Is the reason pegged to location? Does the propensity of certain groups to seek jobs in metropolitan areas lead to higher incidence in geographic clusters? Could culture be a culprit? Spanish was the first language of my parents and there are links between limited-English proficiency and barriers to quality care. We’d love to hear your theories. Solving this socio-economic-medical mystery is imperative for all of us since it is estimated that medical expenses associated with asthma cost a staggering $50 billion every year.

The explanation for these asthma rates among demographic groups is complex and multidisciplinary. The good news is that we have the power to take proactive steps. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s a great opportunity to remind people that having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who live with asthma. EPA also encourages people to check local air quality at Air Now. The site uses a color-coded system to display whether pollutants exceed air quality standards and indicates the air’s impact on different populations. Give it a try at airnow.gov. Grab a tool. Get a plan and Adelante.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

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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EPA, Schools and Communities Work Together to Reduce Asthma

By Dr. Teresa Lipsett-Ruiz

Visitors to Puerto Rico often come to bask in the island’s warmth and waves. But, our tropical environment also contributes to the asthma problem that affects about 1 in 10 people here.

In close partnership with EPA, our university-based indoor air quality program builds partnerships with students, schools and the community to improve the environmental conditions in schools and reduce student absences caused by asthma. It has worked! Over the past 6 years, the schools that we’ve worked with have seen significant decreases in the number of missed school days.

Mountainous areas such as the Puerto Rican municipalities of Caguas and Gurabo are surrounded by humid valleys known as “asthma hotspots,” yet asthma education is not always available there. In response, we created a program with EPA that focuses on three key elements: (1) information resources and checklists, (2) school “walkthroughs,” and (3) partnerships with school officials and the community to physically remove indoor environmental asthma triggers.

Our program relies on EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools guidance and Spanish-language indoor checklists to educate the community and schools on managing environmental asthma triggers. Working with the Puerto Rico Department of Education, we hold IAQ Workshops on asthma triggers.

During school walkthroughs, we often find pest problems—cockroaches, rats and mice—as well as moldy, wet cardboard boxes overflowing with paper. We then formulate a plan to address these asthma triggers.
At first, some teachers were skeptical. They were worried that this was another burden piled onto their busy schedules. Enthusiasm grew, however, when the students and the community began to help. As the old saying goes, “many hands make light work.” The school community came together for a “mega green cleaning” of the school. To check our effectiveness, we collected mold samples before and after our plans were put in place and mold counts dropped significantly.

With the support of school officials, we implemented our program at 32 schools, which resulted in a 38 percent reduction in student absenteeism due to asthma. Based on these impressive results, we now are expanding the program in partnership with EPA. To learn more, listen to my presentation in EPA’s Back-to-School Webinar: Managing Asthma in Schools. Our communities are proud to have improved both their health and student attendance. We invite you to pursue similar programs in your schools and community.

About the author: Dr. Lipsett-Ruiz is the Dean of the School of Science and Technology in Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. Her partnership with EPA has trained more than 150 teachers in 100 schools on practical steps to asthma management. The program leverages school clubs, blogs, conferences, theater play, and role modeling exercises, along with EPA information resources to reduce student absenteeism due to asthma.

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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Have a Question About Asthma?

By Jessica Orquina

Asthma is a serious, chronic disease that is aggravated by environmental triggers, like pollution, mold, and smoke. Here are some basics:

  • Americans with asthma: over 25 million people, including about 7 million kids.
  •  School days missed because of asthma: 10.5 million annually.

The good news is that with medical treatment, and management of environmental triggers, it can be controlled.  That means people with asthma can lead healthy, active lives. However, it’s important to have an asthma action plan and pay attention to the Air Quality Index. Air Quality Awareness Week is April 28 through May 2 and May is Asthma Awareness Month is, so this is a great time to talk about and learn about asthma.

On Thursday, May 1, at 2:00 pm EDT, we’re hosting a Twitter chat about asthma and outdoor air quality. Our experts will be joined by experts from CDC to answer your questions about asthma, air quality, and how to create an asthma action plan. Join the conversation: follow the #asthma hashtag, @EPAlive, and @CDCenvironment. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can post your questions in the comments below and follow the #asthma hashtag during the chat. We look forward to talking with you!

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

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

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Progress in Communities: It All Starts with Science

This week is the 43rd Anniversary of the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and we are marking the occasion by revisiting how our collective efforts on behalf of the American people help local communities become cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable. As the Assistant Administrator for the Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I can’t help but see a strong undercurrent of science and engineering in every success story.

Over the past four plus decades, EPA scientists and engineers, along with their partners from across the federal government, states, tribes, academia, and private business, have supplied the data, built the computer models and tools, and provided the studies that have helped communities take action to advance public health and protect local environments.

In every area of environmental and human health action, EPA researchers have helped local communities make progress. While examples abound, here are just a few:
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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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Advancing Children’s Environmental Health: Our Best Investment

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

Group of children at schoolAnyone who has ever enjoyed watching a toddler explore their world knows that along with that marvelous sense of discovery comes potential trouble. Young children crawl around on the floor, play in the dirt, and don’t hesitate to retrieve a wayward cookie or other delectable treat hidden among the dust bunnies underneath the couch—and pop it straight into their mouth.

Behaviors like these, as well as their smaller bodies and still developing internal systems, make children more vulnerable to pollution and other environmental risks than us adults. That’s why we here at EPA make protecting children’s health a top priority.

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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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