toxic substances

Answering Fears of Students about Bed Bugs in their City Schools

By Marcia Anderson

Byron e-mails: “Today every student on my team at school received a letter about inspectors spotting a bed bug in one of our classrooms. They said they will not issue a pest control spray because it is just a small case of one bed bug… I don’t want to go to school until the pests are clear, but sadly that’s part of my life and I have to go. What can I do to keep these disgusting creatures out of my home?!”

Anna writes: “…My school has a bed bug infestation because of what I found last week in class. I was at my table when I found a bedbug crawling on the desk. I immediately killed it and blood came out of it. It was small so there must be more. What can I do? I already advised some teachers and students as well as my principal but (they) have not done anything? What should I do?”

Dear Byron and Anna,

Your school administrators are correct advising parents to be on the lookout for bed bugs that may hitch a ride to school. However, the sighting of one bed bug does not mean that there is an infestation at your schools. Chances are that the bed bug(s) hitchhiked in from a student or staff member that either has bed bugs at home, or picked them up on the way to school.

Your administrators were being cautious about applying chemicals in a school that may not have an infestation. Although it is important to keep schools free of pests, many pesticides are inherently toxic and may have potential health risks, especially when used in the vicinity of children. Because humans and pests depend on the same food chain, it is not surprising that the use of chemicals that are intended to kill pests comes with some unknown risks to people. Sprayed pesticides may become airborne and settle on toys, desks, counters, shades and walls. Children and staff may breathe in contaminated air or touch contaminated surfaces and unknowingly expose themselves to invisible residues. Accumulations of pesticides can linger for months beyond the initial application. The proper course of action is to investigate the extent of the pest problem and then use the least toxic steps to mitigate the problem, such as barriers, sanitation and maintenance prior to pesticide applications, if needed. This is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is mandated for schools in many states and practiced in New York City schools. Vacuuming, steam cleaning, the use of hot dryers, plastic boxes for storage, and removing clutter where pests may harbor is the preferred action for single bed bug sightings in schools. More

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 Violet Tale

By Elias Rodriguez

During Children’s Health Month, I’d like to share a cautionary tale about a mother’s good intentions. Growing up in New York City’s Lower East Side, one of my childhood memories is the ubiquitous use of a home remedy applied by my mother. This apparently magical medicinal concoction was known to me and my six siblings simply as “tinta violeta” or violet tint.  It was, Mom said, a medicine used by her mother and grandmother as a topical panacea for almost any ailment on the outside of the body.

Tinta violeta was a staple in many Puerto Rican medicine cabinets. Housed in a tiny glass bottle with a dropper, it added an interesting dimension to our heritage. Mom swore by tinta violeta. What was the solution for the scratch I got at the playground? Dab on some tinta violeta. Was that mosquito bite itching? Apply a dot of tinta violeta. When I suffered from a scab due to slip and fall…Quick… Add a drop of tinta violeta to avoid an infection. It seemed like tinta violeta’s deep violet stains were all over my skin at one point or another. The liquid appeared to be a quick, low cost remedy for just about every bite, scratch, itch, rash or other external malady.

What is in tinta violeta? I had not the foggiest idea. When, if ever, is it appropriate to use tinta violeta? In what amounts should tinta violeta be applied? Was it tested by the FDA?  This tiny tot wasn’t worried about any of those concerns. The only downside I could tell was that the deep dark spots made me look like a character out of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.  Parents, on the other hand, have a responsibility to do as the EPA has recommended for years: KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE. READ THE LABEL FIRST!

My siblings and I were not the only ones to get the treatment. One day our beloved family dog came down with a nasty rash that caused much of his hair to fall off. We could not afford a veterinarian’s visit, so Mom handled the consultation herself. It took a few weeks, but our German Shepherd was totally cured and back to normal eventually – The prescription from Dr. Mom? Tinta violeta had done it again!

My saint of a mother, now 83-years-old, says that she always knew that tinta violeta was potentially toxic, which explains why she only administered it in small amounts and kept it far from reach. That was smart, but I wonder how many parents continue to use remedies that they inherited from others and know little about. Should my parents have known that tinta violeta is a powerful dye that has been found to cause cancer in mice? We now know that even traditional medicines can contain chemicals that can harm your health. Never administer any remedy without careful consideration of the source and its potential health effects.

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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Renewing the American Dream: Healthy Environment for Healthy Communities and Healthy Families

This is cross-posted from The White House Blog

By Al Armendariz

Growing up in the tightly knit community of El Paso, Texas, I was always sure of a few things.

One was that family was of the utmost importance. It’s the kind of place where several generations might live within a few blocks of each other, and someone is always ready to help, scold, or praise you.

The other sure-thing involved the skyline: No matter where I was in El Paso, I could always look up and see the smokestacks of the old Asarco smelter looming. The facility affected the city in more ways than that constant visual presence. It gave many residents, including me, a lasting lesson on how pollution and industrial contamination can affect a community.

For years, El Paso families had suspected chemicals from the copper smelting facility had been contaminating nearby homes. Several studies have confirmed this is the case—toxic contamination from arsenic, lead, cadmium, and other chemicals has been found within a radius well outside the boundaries of the facility. And families who live in this area have suffered because of it. For example, a study by the Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry found children living near the facility were much more likely to have elevated levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to neurological, behavioral, and developmental problems.

Although the smelter closed down in 1999 (after more than 100 years of operation), its legacy of contamination still affects this community.
Since the company declared bankruptcy in 2009, EPA has been working with the state of Texas and local community leaders to determine how best to clean up the toxic pollution so it doesn’t harm more generations of El Paso families. It’s especially meaningful to me to be at EPA while my hometown is in the midst of doing something so significant to improve public health. El Paso has transformed itself from a city dependent on polluting heavy industry to one with a diverse economic foundation in health care, defense, international trade, and education. So the smelter clean-up is not just a big issue for the city of El Paso, it means a lot to EPA as well.

Since becoming the regional administrator for the South Central region of the US, I’ve been a part of many efforts to restore communities that have been affected by toxins and industrial pollution. It’s been one of the most gratifying parts of my career to see communities transforming themselves, including places that are cleaning up from the legacy of toxic industrial pollution, and cities rebuilding themselves after natural disasters.

Seeing first-hand how pollution can harm the soil, water, and air in a family’s backyard is one of my first “environmental memories.” It’s probably one of the things that led me to study chemistry and engineering, and to become dedicated to protecting the environment. So by leading our region’s work with the state and El Paso’s leaders, I get to help resolve an environmental issue that was present in the lives of my families and friends.

Of course, it’s not just in El Paso that EPA is helping keep families safe and healthy. Along the entire border, we’re bringing colonia communities clean, reliable drinking water for the first time, and working with the government of Mexico to reduce air pollution from trucks hauling cargo into the US. I’m proud to be part of an Agency with such a long track record of protecting the health and environment of people along the border.

About the author: Al Armendariz is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Administrator for Region 6(Dallas: serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas)

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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Toxic Trail Map Gives Staten Islanders Access to Graphic Facts About Contamination

By Sophia Kelley

Staten Island is sometimes the forgotten borough of New York City. When it is remembered, the island’s legacy of pollution often gets mentioned first. An artist’s recent project may not change that exactly, but Deborah Davis is certainly bringing recognition to the continuing issue of contamination on Staten Island. Davis combined her passion for history with her graphic and artistic skills to create a map of Staten Island that documents the toxic sites of concern. When I first heard about her Toxic Trail Map, I was intrigued and decided to contact her to find out more.

When Davis moved to Staten Island in 1990, she says people would ask her, “Isn’t that where the dump is?” Though the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill is now closed and set to be developed into one of New York City’s largest parks, the island’s toxic legacy will be hard to shake off. Davis got interested in the industrial past and began to consult old maps and archives at the Staten Island Museum. With a grant from the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island, Davis was able to combine her research with environmental information from EPA’s Envirofacts site and her graphic design capabilities to create the online map. More

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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