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Staying Active with Asthma

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In celebration of Asthma Awareness Month, I thought it would be fun to talk with a student who has asthma herself.  I interviewed Shannyn, an energetic 10 year-old who taught me all about what it is like to have asthma.  Shannyn let me know that she doesn’t let asthma get in the way of her active lifestyle and love of playing outdoors with her sisters and friends. At around age 3, Shannyn experienced her first asthma attack.  She explained to me that an asthma attack is an episode, accompanied by wheezing and coughing, which makes it very difficult to breathe.  Triggers, such as dust, chemicals and seasonal allergies, are things that can provoke the event of an asthma attack.  Lucky enough for this smart girl, she knows to avoid these triggers by staying away from heavy bathroom cleaners and helping her mom to clean the house of dust.  

Asthma doesn’t get in the way of Shannyn’s busy lifestyle.  Her love of running club, tumbling, soccer, kickball and playing in the pool are what keep Shannyn going.  By taking a daily preventative inhaler, she is able to participate in these sports and after school activities.  Shannyn is careful to also carry her rescue inhaler with her when going for runs, in case this physical activity makes her asthma worse.  She let me know that although her asthma can sometimes make it hard to keep up with others when running, that she has a few good friends that will run at a steady pace with her.  I am impressed with all the fun, physical activities this girl does!  When telling me about how she is teaching one of her friends how to do a kart wheel, I asked if she could teach me.  At age 22, I still haven’t picked up how to do a kart-wheel. 

It’s no secret that Shannyn doesn’t let her asthma define how she spends her time and what kinds of activities she does.  By knowing which triggers to avoid, taking the proper medication, and doing routine activities like running club to control her asthma, Shannyn is able to live a very spirited life.  She is looking forward to the summer, where she is planning to spend lots of time swimming in the pool with her two sisters.  She has even started to plan her next birthday party, where she and friends will have a spa day.  Shannyn let me know that asthma doesn’t get in the way of staying active and having fun with friends and family.  She is a role model to people of all ages who have asthma.

Shelby Egan was an extern in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5. She is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman. 

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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Dust Bunny – Friend Or Foe?

They seem pretty harmless….those dust bunnies.  They sit under your bed, watching you watch them. 

The thing is those balls of dust living under my bed aren’t just gross but they can be toxic.  It doesn’t stop here.  My basset hound Murphy’s dander can be harmful too. Chemicals from around your home and from the outdoors can wind up indoors causing harm without you knowing it.  Even in low doses, these chemicals can make it indoors and be toxic, compromising your health.   Dust is made up of all sorts of gross stuff like this, including human hair and skin, fungal spores, and tiny particles and fibers.

All of these things can trigger asthma attacks in you, older adults, or young kids just like it does to my little sister, Olive.    Asthma can make it harder to breathe and get air into your lungs.  A lot of the times, Olive has to sit out playing volleyball or soccer.  It’s not fair.

What can I do as Olive’s big brother?  Try preventing the asthma triggers.

First, I make sure there aren’t any armies of dust bunnies building in my room by vacuuming it regularly.   Murphy, the basset hound, probably needs to have a bath and be groomed outdoors weekly, especially during the spring.  If I see a film of dust on my electronic equipment, it’s time to wipe it down and get rid of the dust on it. 

Yea, Olive can be a pest sometimes but she’s my little sister and as her big brother, I have to watch out for her.

Learn more about asthma and its environmental triggers at: www.epa.gov/asthma

Joseph is a 9th grader who likes hanging out with his friends and playing the violin.

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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An “Aha” Moment – Just a Little Too Late

I’m a mom of four kids living in a house built in 1948 that was way too small for us until we expanded it three years ago. That’s around the time I became involved in outreach on lead poisoning prevention, and drafting outreach materials on EPA’s new rule requiring contractors who renovate pre-1978 housing and schools to be trained in lead-safe work practices and certified by EPA or a state (the Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule).

We decided to stay in our house during construction – who has the money to rent a place and pay for the big renovation? Not us! At the time, I teased my contractor, Erik, about the upcoming requirements for renovators. He just laughed and lamented more money he’d have to pay the government. Then he put up big plywood sheets to block the rooms off and to keep dust out. But the plywood didn’t keep the dust out – it was everywhere. At the time, I thought, the new rule says to use plastic sheeting and tape off the rooms to keep dust out. But I didn’t say anything; all I was concerned about was how much longer we’d have to all live cramped in three rooms. I told myself, well, Jack is 10 and the triplets are 7, so their brains are pretty much already developed. But who knows how much exposure they have experienced because of the renovation. Recent studies show that renovation and repair activities are a major source of lead poisoning – from the dust!

Now that I’ve been steeped in the rule and working to get the word out to contractors to get lead-safe trained and certified, I realize that I should have insisted that my own contractor get himself educated about lead. It’s kind of an after-the-fact “aha moment” that leaves you with a real regret. The developmental effects of lead are real and they are irreversible – behavior problems, IQ deficiencies, learning deficits; scary stuff!

National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 18-24, 2009. Take this opportunity to ask your plumber, electrician, repairman, or renovation contractor five words: Do you work lead-safe? If they stare back at you blankly, point them to our website. I recently found out that Erik is doing another renovation in the neighborhood. I’m going to work on him!

About the author: Sheila Canavan has more than 24 years of federal service, and has worked at EPA for 14 years. She coordinates web content and communications materials on OPPT’s efforts to address lead, mercury, PCBs and asbestos.

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 Uninvited Guest

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Last Saturday, as I was watching the 11:00 p.m. news, the weather anchor gave an advisory of Sahara dust in the area. Too late I thought, since I have an asthmatic three year old. Most of us who suffer with asthma can feel the effects before satellites detect this Saharan cloud. Following the weather advisory, I had him stay inside the house all Sunday as a preventive measure. As feared, Monday morning came and he was wheezing with a full blown asthma attack.

Satellite view of dust cloud over Atlantic OceanEvery summer, particles of dust from the Sahara Desert travel halfway around the globe and settle in the Caribbean area around Puerto Rico. This dust impacts not only our air quality, but the climate. This cloud, full of minerals and fungi, alters the quality of air and impacts not only respiratory health, but ecosystems as well. Some studies trace the loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean to this phenomenon. It’s incredible that these small particles from the Sahara Desert in Africa can cause so many adverse impacts to the environment and health an ocean away.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in July 2000 alone, nearly eight million tons of dust from Africa reached Puerto Rico. That’s the equivalent of eight million pickup trucks (each pickup truck weighs one ton. Satellite imagery tracks this gigantic cloud that arrives from Africa every year, peaking between May and August in our area. Most of the population relies on the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board air quality information. Also the National Weather Service, issues warnings whenever the uninvited guest drops by our beautiful Caribbean island.

I was counting my blessings all summer long since it had been five months since my son’s last attack. A combination of factors had been successful in helping us manage his asthma over the past months. First the medications, second, I had been very vigilant about indoor asthma triggers and third, during the summer, since he was at home, I made him stay indoors every time the air quality index rose to alert levels. Nevertheless, here I was back to square one with our yearly uninvited visitor: Sahara dust.

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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El Visitante No Invitado

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

El sábado pasado, mientras veía el noticiario de las 11:00 p.m. el reportero ancla del tiempo anunció un alerta de polvo del Desierto del Sahara en el área. Muy tarde, pensé, ya que mi hijo de tres años es asmático y al igual que otras personas asmáticas y alérgicas puede sentir los efectos antes que los satélites puedan detectar esta nube de polvo. Ese día nos había acompañado a realizar encargos e inclusive había jugado afuera. Al día siguiente del aviso, hice que mi hijo se mantuviera dentro de la casa como medida preventiva. Sin embargo y tal como temiera, el lunes ya tenía un ataque de asma.

Satellite view of dust cloud over Atlantic OceanTodos los veranos las partículas de polvo del Desierto del Sahara viajan alrededor del mundo y se asientan en el área del Caribe, especialmente en Puerto Rico. Este polvo no solo afecta nuestra calidad de aire, pero también el clima. La nube, lleva de minerales y hongos, altera la calidad del aire e impacta severamente a aquellos con condiciones respiratorias, pero también afecta los ecosistemas. Inclusive algunos estudios asocian la pérdida de corales en el Caribe a este fenómeno. Es increíble que partículas tan pequeñas sean responsables de tanto impactos adversos al medioambiente, las personas y a los ecosistemas que se encuentran a un océano de por medio.

De acuerdo a la Administración Nacional Aeronáutica y Espacial (NASA, por sus siglas en inglés), en el mes de julio del año 2000 llegaron a Puerto Rico 8 millones de toneladas de polvo del Desierto del Sahara. Eso es el equivalente a 8 millones de camionetas! ( cada camioneta pesa una tonelada). Aunque las imágenes de satélite vigilan esta nube gigante que llega a nuestro vecindario caribeño entre los meses de mayo y agosto, la gran mayoría de la ciudadanía depende del informe de caldidad de aire de la Junta de Calidad Ambiental de Puerto Rico. Este a su vez es el que utilizan los noticiarios junto a los avisos que emite el Servicio Nacional de Meteorología (NWS, por sus siglas en inglés) para alertar a la población.

Ante este panorama, siempre tomo mis precauciones especiales durante el verano con mis niños para que no se vean afectados con alergias o asma. Hacía cinco meses que a mi hijo menor no le daba un ataque de asma. Una combinación de factores que incluyen medicamentos, controlar los detonantes y el mantenerlo dentro de la casa cuando los informes de calidad de aire indicaban un nivel insalubre, habían resultado exitosos para manejar su condición. Pero cierto visitante no invitado, el polvo del Desierto del Sahara, se encargó que todos mis esfuerzos se hicieran sal y agua en menos de 48 horas.

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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