environmental health

New Online Resources Available for Local Leaders and Community Members

During my 38 years at EPA, I’ve had a chance to work here in Washington, D.C., in Research Triangle Park, in Dallas, and in Atlanta. In each of my roles, I’ve had many opportunities to meet with local leaders who are working hard to address concerns in their communities. So I know protecting environmental quality and public health happens most directly at the local level.

That’s why making a visible difference in communities is one of our top priorities for EPA. We are looking for ways we can support local officials juggling multiple responsibilities, as well as residents eager for information they can use to take action and improve local conditions.

So I’m excited about a new resource we’ve launched specifically for local officials and citizens. The Community Resources website gives visitors easy access to three unique resources that can help with a variety of local environmental and public health issues:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) website offers information to help communities understand and meet federal and state environmental regulatory requirements. Developed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, it’s one of several compliance assistance centers EPA supports. Along with media-specific information, LGEAN also includes information to help with issues ranging from sustainable environmental management to transportation to public safety.
  • The National Resource Network website offers practical solutions to help communities reach their goals for growth and economic development. Established by HUD in cooperation with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, it offers local government officials a Resource Library to help with practical solutions and analyses, as well as a “311 for Cities” service that enables them to request and quickly receive assistance on a wide range of topics.
  • And EPA’s Community Health website gives users resources to help improve local environmental health conditions. It provides access to information about beach closures, fish advisories, toxic emissions, and other public health issues. Visitors can also find information about applying for EPA grants and technical assistance.

We hope you’ll find this new site helpful. We invite you to check it out and then, click on the link to give us your feedback. We want to hear how we can improve the site to help local officials and community members across the country find the resources that are most important to them.

The Community Resources site is just one way we are working to make a visible difference in communities. Let me share a few examples of work happening on the ground around the country:

  • In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we awarded a brownfields grant that will help the community cleanup and revitalize a neighborhood marked by abandoned and polluted industrial properties. Check out this short video that features Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas as they describe what this support will mean for the community.
  • In Wheeling, West Virginia, we joined local residents in exploring how it can transform an old apple orchard in an historic part of town into a regional hub for local foods. This work is part of the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, which involves USDA and other federal agencies in helping communities develop local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Listen to what the Reinvent Wheeling’s Jack Dougherty has to say about this effort in this story by WV Public Radio.
  • In Fresno, California, we have been working with other state and federal agencies to help spur economic development and revitalization as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A new EPA report drawing on that work describes 30 strategies to help local governments overcome obstacles and encourage infill development, particularly in distressed communities. As many communities across the country have learned, infill development saves money through the more efficient use of tax dollars, increases property values, and improves quality of life. We’re excited about how it can help Fresno, and many other communities that recognize the benefits of reinvesting and restoring what were once vibrant neighborhoods.

Whether working on tools and information to help communities address priority issues or working right alongside community leaders, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and I are proud of the work EPA is doing to help communities build a greener, healthier, more prosperous future. We look forward to sharing more examples of how we are supporting communities in reaching their goals.

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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Public Health and the Environment: We’re All in this Together

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

“Public health does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to education, employment, the environment and our economy. There is a whole world beyond hospital corridors and clinic waiting rooms where people are struggling with issues of transportation, housing and development.”

These inspirational words were spoken by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the newly-commissioned 19th Surgeon General of the United States.

Swearing in of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 22, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, PAO photo by Damien Salas)

Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath to incoming U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, April 22, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, by Damien Salas)

Dr. Murthy made the above remarks as he addressed those gathered at Fort Myers in northern Virginia on April 22, 2015 at his formal commissioning. The event included the ceremonial passing of the emblem of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corp, symbolizing the acceptance of responsibility to lead the more than 6,500 officers working throughout the U.S. and abroad to protect human health.

As “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Murthy brings enormous passion and understanding of challenges that face the nation and the world. Importantly for our Agency and the American people, this includes the recognition and acknowledgment that our health and the environment in which we live are inexorably linked. Dr. Murthy embraces the understanding that a healthy environment is necessary for healthy people.

“We will work to move from a culture of treatment to one of prevention. But while the mark of a great nation may be in how we care for our most vulnerable, the test of a strong nation is how good we are at keeping them from getting sick in the first place,” he said.

I had the great fortune to be in attendance to hear such remarks first hand. I found the experience inspirational, reaffirming the principles of why I initially chose to become a physician, and again why I chose to redirect my medical career several years ago to advancing environmental public health.

To the many members of the Commissioned Corp working within the EPA we salute you for your service and commitment to our Country and people throughout the world, most notably for your recent work in West Africa in the fight against ebola. We here at the EPA look forward to being Dr. Murthy’s partners as we strive to protect public health and our environment.

About the Author: Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and how people can use that information to maintain healthy hearts.

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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Sharing What I Learned About Lead – Help Spread the Word

By Michelle Jang

During my summer internship in EPA’s lead program, I got to see how many organizations work together to protect people, especially children, from lead poisoning. This effort includes everyone from Congress and EPA to local governments and communities. I was also able to participate in international initiatives to spread awareness to countries that still use lead-based paint. I believe these efforts can lead to a healthier and cleaner environment all over the world. Joining together can – and has – made a huge difference in reducing this major environmental health threat. However, in the end, it’s up to each of us.

I learned more about lead in these nine weeks than in my entire school career, so I still want to do my part. Here are some things that really stuck with me.

I learned that lead is harmful to children in even the smallest amount and that it can cause permanent damage in early brain and muscle development.

I also learned that homes built before the lead-based paint ban in 1978 might still have walls painted with lead-based paint. Lead also can be in the paint used for pots and toys. This new knowledge made me realize – and become a bit paranoid – that I could have been exposed as a child, or even worse, how my future children may become exposed.

I learned that federal law requires that renovators who work in homes built before 1978 must receive special training. Also, the companies they work for must become “lead-safe certified” for the safety of home owners and their families. I realized the importance of getting that message out: lead is dangerous if you live in a pre-1978 home, you need to hire workers certified by EPA in lead-safe work practices.

I’m sharing this information because I want to make this world a better place to live. I hope that you’ll pass it along, too; awareness is an important step in protecting ourselves, our families and the environment from the dangers of lead.

Learn more about EPA’s lead program and Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

About the author: Michelle Jang is a rising senior studying Civil Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. She was an intern with the Lead Program in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention during the summer of 2014.

 

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 Study Shows Poverty Is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

Every day EPA researchers are advancing our understanding of how air pollution threatens heart health. We will be sharing some of the important studies under way and research discoveries during February in recognition of American Heart Month.

Healthy Heart graphic identifier

By Ann Brown

In 2008, lightening started a peat bog wildfire in eastern North Carolina. Dry peat is an organic material that makes a perfect fuel for fire. For weeks the fire smoldered, blanketing communities in 44 rural counties with toxic air pollutants that exceeded EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards at times. As a result, many people went to the emergency department with congestive heart failure, asthma and other health problems from smoke exposure as documented in an EPA study.

The wildfire provided a unique opportunity for researchers to evaluate the reasons behind the heart and respiratory problems caused from smoke exposure. They were interested in whether there are community characteristics than can be used to identify residents whose health might be at risk from wildfires or other sources of air pollution. What exactly did the communities along the Coastal Plain of North Carolina have in common?

Researchers analyzed daily rates of visits to the emergency departments during the fire event and community health factors such as access and quality of clinical care, health behaviors, socioeconomic factors and the characteristics of the physical environment. The findings, published in Environmental Health, indicate low socio-economic status alone can be used to determine if a community is at risk for congestive heart failure or other health problems observed. Low socio-economic status is a term used to describe a group of factors such as low income, inadequate education and safety concerns.

While the knowledge that people in poverty are at greater health risk from air pollution is not new, this study provides scientific evidence that a community’s socio-economic status can be used to identify those at greatest risk from air pollution. This is good news for the public health community and others interested in reaching people with heart or lung diseases who may be at risk of air pollution. This study and others being conducted across the country by epidemiologists are helping to find ways to address health problems in communities. 

About the Author: Ann Brown is the communications lead for EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program.

Tweet! Tweet!
Remember to join us for a Twitter Chat with EPA research cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio tomorrow, February 20, at 2:30 pm. Follow #HealthyHeart or @EPAlive.

Be Smart, Protect Your Heart from Air Pollution

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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Sensors and Sensibility

By Vasu Kilaru

Around us every day are technologies that give us access to more information at our fingertips than any generation has ever had.  As an EPA scientist, I’m pretty thrilled about these innovations and what they mean for environmental protection.

One exciting new initiative in that realm here at EPA is called Apps and Sensors for Air Pollution or ASAP. This new aspect of our research came out of the recognition that the advances in sensor technologies are unfolding at the same amazing pace that we all see with new cellphone and smartphone technologies.

Cellphones already have a variety of sensors built in:  light sensors and proximity sensors to manage display brightness, accelerometers used as switches or to characterize motion, GPS to provide mapping and locational services, compass and gyroscope to provide direction and orientation, microphones for audio, and a camera for video/photography.

These capabilities have led to the logical coupling of other sensors, such as for air pollution monitoring or biometric measurements, with smartphones.

Traditionally, air monitoring technologies were costly to setup and maintain, and therefore were put under the purview of governments (federal and state). Now, new miniature sensor technologies are more affordable and have the advantage of being highly portable. These developments in sensor technology present an exciting new frontier where monitoring will be more democratic and available much more widely. Parallel to these developments are sensors that measure physiological conditions such as heart rate or blood oxygen levels.

Pairing environmental sensors with ones that measure biological conditions could herald a new era for both environmental protection as well as healthcare. Future developments in these sensor technologies ultimately have the capacity to help people make better decisions regarding their environment and their own health.

So we are excited to do our part in bringing new technologies to you.  If you’re going to the World Maker Faire in New York this weekend (September 29-30), stop by our EPA booth, we’d love to talk about how DIYers, makers, inventors can help make a greener future.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP) helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

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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Science Wednesday:Listening to the Doctor

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

By Tarlie Townsend

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland and I have a lot in common. For instance: after getting her medical degree she completed a master’s in public health at Harvard. Just a few days ago, I was looking over the website for that exact degree program!

Hm, I guess maybe we don’t have so much in common after all. Unlike Dr. Brundtland, whose recent talk to EPA staff allowed me to see her up close (and during my first week working in the office!), I wasn’t the youngest and first female Prime Minister of Norway. I also haven’t served as director general for the World Health Organization or as Special Envoy for Climate Change for the UN Secretary General.

But we do share some fundamental interests. Maybe what I should say, then, is that I have a lot to learn from people like her.
Dr. Brundtland’s commitment to sustainable development offers one major example. Although she began her career in medicine, perhaps the most straightforward way to improve human health, her greatest impacts stem from her recognition that a healthy person cannot exist independently of a healthy environment. Rather, we need air we can breathe, water we can drink, food that’s nutritious and non-toxic—and enough of those things. It’s with this realization that she worked to incorporate issues of environmental health and sustainability into policy.

This is inspiring to me for several reasons. As an undergrad considering possible career paths, I’ve questioned whether to pursue public health, environmental science, or science policy. Indeed, a graduate degree requires specialization in some area, but I am seeing now how intrinsically related these fields are—how valuable it is, for instance, for a specialist in environmental science to grasp the relevance of their work to public health and policy, and to collaborate with members of those fields on crucial issues.

Dr. Brundtland addresses EPA staff

Dr. Brundtland addresses EPA staff

Other groups, too, should be involved—businesspeople, for instance. Dr. Brundtland highlighted the value of incorporating sustainability into a company’s business practices: new technologies may simultaneously reduce the environmental impact and improve industrial efficiency, increasing the bottom line in the long run. And since sustainable development is just that sustainable—businesses that apply it may be/are themselves more likely to endure.

In that case, why not pursue business and policy strategies that are both great for business and great for human health?

About the author: Tarlie Townsend – When she’s not pretending to be Dr. Brundtland’s protégé, Tarlie can be found interning with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

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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A Healthier You In 2012

By Lina Younes

At the beginning of the year, I decided that 2012 was going to be the year for me to get healthier. I thought that if I used that as my guiding light for the months ahead, this resolution would likely survive beyond the month of January.

Granted that in order to get healthier, I needed to make some changes to my daily habits. Lifestyle changes and making better choices are definitely required to be successful in reaching my goal. There is no doubt that losing weight seems to be in everyone’s top five New Year resolutions. However when the pounds don’t come off as fast as we like, we are likely to be disillusioned and return to our unhealthy practices. So, what are some of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made to achieve my healthier goal? Well, I’ve started by making healthier eating choices. How about eating more fruits and vegetables? How about looking at our  old cookbooks for creative recipes that not only include healthier foods, but add some variety to the menu? How about exercising more? I’m not talking necessarily about going on the treadmill that has been collecting dust in the basement. I mean we can take longer walks even when we walk our dog. That’s a nice way of getting some fresh air and getting some exercise without really trying. Also, don’t forget the sun block even if it’s wintertime.

What other choices can we make to have a healthier lifestyle?

  • Well, reducing the amount of clutter around the home is a great start to get in the right state of mind.
  • Increasing our recycling rate is another good habit at home and at work.
  • Testing your home for radon will also help you to have a healthier home.
  • Reading the label first before using household chemical products and pesticides

These are just a few of  the healthy habits that should lead to a healthier 2012. Why don’t you commit to taking action for a healthier you and a healthier environment? Visit EPA’s Pick 5 for some suggestions.

As always, we would like to hear from you. What have you done to make 2012 a healthier year for you and your family?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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

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

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What Do Kids Know About Going Green?

By Wendy Dew

Way more than you think! EPA Region 8 recently invited students to participate in the 2011 Earth Day “What Makes a School Green Art Challenge.”

The contest asked students to draw or design “what makes their school green or what could make their school green”. Students could design a green school, draw green school activities or draw what makes their school green already. Example green activities included: recycling, planting trees, changing light bulbs, etc.

The purpose of the contest was to see what school children think will make their school green or greener! The drawings were very educational for EPA, teachers and parents as they showed us what our children think about environmental protection and environmental health and safety in the school environment.

The winning entry was from Linford Elementary School in Wyoming.

See some of the entries

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

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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Until We Meet Again

By Lina Younes

I’m glad to have been contributing to Greenversations since it was launched back in April, 2008. For the past three years, I’ve been part of the effort to produce bilingual blog posts every Thursday. I’ve covered a wide variety of environmental health issues during that time. My goal has been to increase environmental awareness to English and Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S. and worldwide. Essentially, I have wanted to convey one central message: the steps we take in our daily lives, whether at home, at school, in the office, or our community, have a direct impact on our health and the environment as a whole.

I’ve truly enjoyed writing about the debate over the Puerto Rican tree frog in Hawaii. In fact, I have learned a lot during the process from over 120 comments received from residents from both sets of Islands.

Environmental issues such as the proper use of pesticides, waste reduction,  recycling, saving energy, environmental education activities have been very popular. I’ve also used my blog posts to give further insight to EPA’s regulatory process.

However, what I have enjoyed the most during this time has been the opportunity to share my experiences with my youngest daughter. She has truly been an inspiration for many of my blog entries. While I’ve tried to educate her about the importance of the environment, I have learned a lot from her as well. Many times she seems to have wisdom beyond her years.  Either I’m doing something right or she gets it. I couldn’t be happier.

So, while I am glad to have been given the opportunity to participate in this environmental exchange, I will have to go on hiatus for a while. My current responsibilities in the Office of Environmental Education help me to continue working in favor of environmental literacy, but limit the time I have available to write weekly blogposts. At this point, I will not be able to fulfill a weekly commitment to Greenversations. Nonetheless, I hope to resume the conversation or at least contribute from time to time. As always, I would like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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

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

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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.

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.