Category Archives: Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Sets Cleaner Fuel and Car Standards to Cut Air Pollution and Improve Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized emission standards for cars and gasoline to significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. According to the EPA, the new standards will also create efficiency improvements for cars and trucks. The standards go into effect by 2017.
The new standards cut emissions of a range of harmful pollutants that can cause premature death and respiratory illnesses. By 2030, EPA estimates that up to 2,000 premature deaths; 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; and 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution will be prevented. Total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $6.7 and $19 billion annually.
The program will also reduce exposure to pollution near roads. More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day. Read more on environment.
Study Finds Many Parents Support Flu Shots at School
Half of parents in the United States would agree to have their children get their flu shots at school, according to a survey from the Brown School of Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers at the school conducted a nationally representative online survey of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children. Convenience was the chief reason for parents supporting flu shots at school. Thirty two percent of parents surveyed were not sure if they would consent to giving the shots at school and 17 percent said they would not consent. Most likely to support flu shots at school were college-educated parents and parents of uninsured children. The study was published in the journal Vaccine.
Flu season can last in the United States through April, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is especially the case in communities where the season started later in the fall or early winter. In a recent report, CDC researchers found that the flu vaccine “offered substantial protection against the flu this [2013-2014] season,” reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60 percent across all ages
“We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now. This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated," said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a recent release. Read more on flu.
Online Ratings Currently Not Used Much to Choose Physicians
Online ratings that review physicians can influence which doctor a patient chooses, but most patients rank insurance acceptance and distance from home or office as more important, according to a new study in JAMA.
- 9 percent of responders said they consider doctor rating websites “very important” in their search for a physician
- 89 percent of responders ranked “accepts my health insurance” as “very important.”
- 59 percent said a convenient office location very important
The study also found that only five percent of those surveyed have ever posted ratings online, although two-thirds of responders were aware of ranking sites, a higher percentage than found in previous studies.
“These may seem useful, but no one is regulating this ‘crowdsourced’ information about doctors. There’s no way to verify its reliability, so online ratings may not currently be the best resource for patients,” David Hanauer, a primary care pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Read more on community health.
Cold Winter Raises Concerns about Energy Insecurity
A new brief by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University looks at energy insecurity (EI), which is measured by the proportion of household energy expenditures relative to household income. EI tends to impact low-income families in part because they often live in older homes and apartments that haven’t been constructed to conserve heat.
Key findings of the brief include:
- More than half of families affected by economic EI are living in poverty (below 100 percent of the federal poverty level) and about one third are extremely poor.
- Approximately half of all households facing economic EI are black/African-American and about one-third are white.
- Geographically, the largest proportion (46 percent) of children in households with economic EI resides in the South.
- Over half of families with economic EI are renters; 41 percent are homeowners.
According to the Mailman researchers, the main safety net program for EI, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), covers only a fraction of the overall need. Of the estimated 10-15 million homes eligible for benefits in 2012, 5.5 million received assistance for reasons such as lack of awareness by people who could benefit and program budget cuts. Read more on poverty.
Many Adults with Depression Symptoms Have Not Consulted a Professional
A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that close to 40 percent of the 15 million American adults who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year did not talk to a counselor or health provider. A major depressive episode is defined as a period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and had at least four of seven additional symptoms reflecting the criteria as described in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). “This report shows that too many Americans still needlessly suffer in silence instead of reaching out to providers for help in getting them on the road to recovery through effective treatment and supports,” said Paolo del Vecchio, the director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “We are raising awareness about the hope for recovery from these conditions, helping communities identify their behavioral health needs, and increasing education about access to treatment for all Americans through the Affordable Care Act and the new parity protections for insurance coverage.” Read more about mental health.
EPA Proposes New Safety Measures to Protect Farm Workers from Pesticide Exposure
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard to protect the nation’s two million farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure. The EPA is proposing significant improvements to worker training regarding the safe usage of pesticides, including how to prevent and effectively treat pesticide exposure. Increased training and signage will inform farm workers about their protections under the law. The EPA has also proposed that children under 16 be legally barred from handling all pesticides, with an exemption for family farms. The revisions are based on more than a decade of extensive stakeholder input by federal and state partners and from across the agricultural community including farm workers, farmers and industry. Read more on the Environmental Protection Agency.
A new report from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives urges government at the local, state and federal levels to address noise pollution, which the study estimates impacts 104 million Americans. The researchers say noise not only impacts hearing, but also contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, stress, learning difficulties and even injuries.
"Everyone complains about noise, yet we do virtually nothing about it in this country," says Richard Neitzel, PHD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and a co-author of the new report. “Noise is really up there in terms of health problems it causes, but it gets no attention—especially compared to other common exposures such as air pollution.”
Links between noise and health impacts are still being studied, but stress is thought to be a key factor.
The report suggests that noise be included in the federal public health agenda and recommends areas for regulation to reduce noise levels, including setting emission levels, improving information dissemination about the dangers of noise and a call to conduct more research to better understand the impact of noise on the population. Neitzel’s report includes recommendations for the National Prevention Strategy, a strategy to achieve prevention efforts across federal agencies:
- Exert noise control through direct regulation, setting maximum emissions levels.
- Require emissions disclosure on products, such as children’s toys.
- Improve information dissemination about the dangers of noise.
- Conduct more research to fully understand the impact of noise on the population.
The researchers also suggest ways state and local governments could fill the gaps:
- Enact regulations on sources of noise that aren’t covered by the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies.
- Adopt procurement policies to reduce community noise caused by construction, emergency vehicles and maintenance equipment.
- Take steps to build or renovate housing that protects people from noise health initiatives across the federal government.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth blog about a study by a visiting attorney fellow of the Network for Public Health Law on the health impacts of environmental noise.
NewPublicHealth Q&A: Florence Fulk and Tami Thomas-Burton on the Impact of the Environment on Health
Florence Fulk, MS, BS, a research biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tami Thomas-Burton, BS, MPH, of the Office of the Regional Administrator-Environmental Justice at EPA, will be speaking at the National Health Impact Assessment meeting this week on HIAs and environmental policy. NewPublicHealth caught up with Fulk and Thomas-Burton ahead of the conference to ask about EPA’s use of health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: What steps has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken with respect to health impact assessments?
Florence Fulk: Within EPA is the Office of Research and Development, and within that office we have a Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program which is providing tools, models and approaches to support HIAs across the country. We’re also demonstrating HIA as an approach to integrate and weigh tradeoff in community decision making.
NPH: Why is the EPA investing in health impact assessments?
Fulk: The primary vision for the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is to inform and empower communities to look at human health, economic and environmental factors in their decision making, and to do it in a way that fosters community sustainability. And that vision is very closely linked to the values and the function of HIAs. The number of HIAs that are being conducted in the United States and the number of people that are conducting HIAs in the United States has formed this growing community of practice, which can inform our Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program by understanding the decisions that communities are facing and how they’re bringing health, economic and environmental information to the process.
We also see that by growing a community of practice as a network to disseminate EPA tools, models, data and guidance, the research that we do to support HIAs also gives us a way to raise awareness about sustainable alternatives in community decisions.
Who better to offer up advice on summer sun protection than the Los Angeles County Health Department? Recently the department warned its residents to “practice summer sun smarts” to protect themselves from skin cancer, which, at 1 million diagnoses per year according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is now the most common form of cancer among Americans.
July is recognized as "UV Safety Month" to encourage everyone—not just those in Los Angeles—to protect themselves from ultraviolet (UV) rays, a major risk factor for most skin cancers, by using sunscreen and avoiding prolonged sun exposure during peak hours. “Simple sun safeguards can go a long way in protecting the health of you and your family this summer,” says Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, the departments’ director of public health.
In other summer sun safety news, this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and SAFE KIDS Worldwide partnered up to promote National Heatstroke Prevention Day this past Wednesday, July 31. NHTSA and their partners used this opportunity to educate parents on the dangers of leaving children in unattended vehicles in the summer heat, as there have already been over 20 heat-related deaths of children in cars this summer. Children’s body temperatures can spike three to five times faster than an adult’s, and even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature in the car to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit—so safety steps are critical at all times.
In a new interview with Ramona Trovato, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NewPublicHealth continues its conversation series about the National Prevention Strategy. The strategy was released last year by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, to help create a healthier and more fit nation.
Earlier this year the Surgeon General’s office released the Strategy’s National Action Plan, designed to show how the 17 Federal Agencies charged with advancing the National Prevention Strategy are implementing its vital components. The EPA has several partner initiatives critical to the health of the nation, which include:
- Partnership for Sustainable Communities: The EPA is a partner, together with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in this partnership to help communities improve access to affordable housing and transportation while protecting the environment, all critical aspects of healthy living.
- Green Ribbon Schools: EPA is a partner with the Department of Education and other agencies for this recognition award that encourages state education agencies and schools to recognize the links between education, health, and the environment, and to make all three of these areas a priority.
- Safe routes to school: Agencies including HHS, EPA and the Department of Transportation support efforts to improve the ability of students to walk and bicycle to school safely.
- Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children: This multi-agency task force, which includes the EPA, recommends strategies for protecting children's health and safety, including specific priorities around asthma, unintentional injuries, lead poisoning, cancer, and environmental health in schools.
- Aging Initiative: This EPA initiative aims to prioritize environmental health hazards that affect older persons, focus on “smart growth” principals to support active aging, and examine the environmental impact of an aging population, and encourage civic involvement among older persons in their communities to reduce hazards.
Ramona Trovato shared with us EPA’s long history of health promotion and its current efforts to help improve population health as a member agency of the National Prevention Council.
NewPublicHealh: How does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) align itself with the National Prevention Strategy?
Ramona Trovato: The EPA is really pleased to be part of the National Prevention Council and the National Prevention Strategy. We firmly believe in preventing ill health and in promoting wellness, and it’s something that matters to us in all the work that we do. We have very successfully partnered with Department of Health and Human Services in the past and with a number of other federal agencies including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to benefit the public’s health.
NPH: What are the key roles of the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting the nation’s health?
The Environmental Protection Agency is inviting people to write six-word “micro essays” about Earth in observance of Earth Day this Sunday. Many of the micro-essays will be featured on the EPA home page and on the EPA’s social media channel.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote: Healthier families, cleaner communities, stronger America.
NewPublic Health’s entry: Live, Learn, Work, Play and Breathe.
The EPA has a webpage devoted to Earth Day(and the days beyond—when we should still be decreasing our energy usage, reusing and recycling as much as we can, and using human-powered transportation whenever possible). Other EPA resources include:
- A map of Earth Day activities throughout the nation—for example, Birmingham, Ala., will hold the country’s largest Earth Day parade, while Georgia Tech’s Earth Day celebration includes eco-friendly giveaways, recycling opportunities, a clothing swap, an office supply exchange and organic popcorn.
- Join an EPA discussion group on the environment or start your own.
- Choose Five things to commit to doing to help protect the environment
- Sign on for EPA’s Green Tips such as, "Leaving your car at home twice a week can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year."
>>Bonus Earth Day activity: The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently held an Emergency Stockpile Recipe Contest. The contest was part of the APHA’s Get Ready Campaign, which helps Americans become prepared for disasters and emergencies. What makes the recipes so Earth Day-appropriate is that none require an energy source for preparation and are made from foods you’d stockpile for an emergency (be sure to replace any cans or packages you take out of your stash, though). The winners:
>>Weigh In: What are you doing for Earth Day?
A single booster to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) has been approved for adults 65 and older, according to a news release from the Food and Drug Administration. Previously, three injections were required for additional protection against the three diseases for this age group.
A recent survey by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that thirty percent of North Carolina mothers of children less than 2 two years old say they have spanked their children in the last year. The survey was published in Frontiers in Child and Neurodevelopmental Psychiatry. The researchers say the survey is concerning being spanking has been associated with poor self-esteem; impaired parent–child relationships; child and adult mental health problems; substance abuse; and an increased likelihood of spanking one’s own children.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued final regulations aimed at cutting air pollution from power plants in more than 20 states. The new rules will require that the power plants install new technology to reduce the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions that travel across states via wind and weather.
Only about a quarter of parents make their kids shower before spending time at a water park, according to a survey from the University of Michigan. Showering is crucial because it can remove many germs from a child’s skin that can then spread to others playing in the water.
Nowadays, for some in the U.S., “fracking”, a natural gas extraction process that relies on blasting chemically treated water to remove the gas from rock, has become an unpleasant term as well.
Critics say the chemically treated water used for fracking (also known as hydrofracturing) can contaminate both drinking water and the environment and may also increase seismic activity and tree clearing that exposes rock, harms rural roads and can create chemical run-off in drinking wells. Fracking's proponents, on the other hand, contend that natural gas is considered a cleaner-burning energy source than oil or coal and is safer than nuclear energy.
Fracking has received increased attention recently, including a series of articles in the New York Times, a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, and an essay in the Huffington Post by actor Mark Ruffalo. It's also the subject of a recent documentary called Gasland.
To help explore the issues surrounding fracking, including recent legislation, health hazards, policies to protect the public’s health from risks, and the reactions of the public health community, the Public Health Law Network is hosting a webinar called “Fracking – Is It Just a Dirty Word?: Environmental and Public Health Considerations of Hydrofracturing, on Thursday May 19th from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. (ET). Webinar presenters include Josh Fox, Gasland filmmaker, and Conrad D. Volz, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., assistant professor of environmental & occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh.
The webinar is part of the free Public Health Law Webinar Series, sponsored by the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics; the Public Health Law Association; the Public Health Law Network; and the Public Health Law Research Program.
Register for the webinar by 2 p.m. (ET) on Tuesday May 17. Information will be sent to those registered prior to the webinar.
The current radiation crisis in Japan – while having no immediate impact on public health in the U.S. – has spurred domestic health officials to bolster their knowledge of what to do in a radiation emergency.
Today – from noon to 2 pm ET – the American Medical Association will host a free webinar on radiation emergencies.
Webinar speakers include Mary Selecky, secretary of health for the state of Washington — which has detected low levels of radiation from the Japan crisis, but no health threat so far — and Doran Christensen, associate director of the Department of Energy’s Radiation Emergency Assistance Center in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Topics to be addressed include:
- Immediate and long-term public health responsibilities in a radiation emergency.
- Individual and group preparation for a radiation emergency.
- Different types of ionizing radiation and their medical implications.
- Diagnosis and treatment for radiation exposure.
Webinar participants will be able to ask questions of the speakers during the last half hour. The webinar will then be archived and available on the AMA website before the end of April.
A number of organizations and news outlets have ongoing resources to help understand what is unfolding in Japan.
- The Environmental Protection Agency is showing monitoring data for both air and water.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posts regular updates on the radiation emergency on its “What’s New” page.
- The New York Times has a dynamically updated topic page pulling together coverage of the situation in Japan.
- A series of hashtags on Twitter provide updates from news organizations and others on the ground in Japan (#fukushima, #radiation, #Japan)