Category Archives: Water and air quality

Aug 18 2014
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A Public Effort to Help Kids Breathe Easier

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

In an effort to reduce missed school days, theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the Ad Council, has launched a campaign to teach parents how to prevent asthma attacks in kids by identifying common asthma triggers. The “No Attacks” campaign urges parents to learn how to control factors that make a child’s asthma worse, use asthma medicines effectively and recognize when to call the doctor.

Asthma affects nearly 9 million U.S. children, with poor and minority children suffering a greater burden from the disease. Asthma can be especially serious in kids because of their small airways.

Through a series of Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) featuring a rock band of puppet characters called the “Breathe Easies,” the campaign includes online videos, radio spots and online banners (available in English and Spanish) with songs about asthma triggers at home, at school and outside. These entertaining messages inform viewers about how to prevent asthma attacks by cleaning up mold, vacuuming regularly and eliminating smoking at home; making sure their child’s school has a plan for controlling cockroaches and other pests, banning furry class pets and minimizing the use of chemical irritants in cleaning products, air fresheners and pesticides; and postponing outdoor sports and other high-energy activities to avoid exposure to high air pollution levels.

“Too many Americans, particularly children, minorities and people living in poverty, suffer from asthma, spending their time at doctor visits and hospitals instead of at school, work and play,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. By working with the Ad Council and other partners in communities across the country, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans dealing with asthma.”

Asthma causes U.S. children to miss 14 million school days each year, which is especially worrisome because more frequent school absences are consistently linked with worse academic performance. The good news: “School absences due to asthma can be avoided by appropriate asthma management, including appropriate use of medications and reduced exposure to triggers,” noted a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since there’s no cure for asthma, preventing attacks—by reducing exposure to environmental triggers and using medications appropriately—is the primary focus of treatment.

The new PSAs stem from The Childhood Asthma Campaign, which was first launched by the EPA and the Ad Council in 2001. Since the debut of that campaign, the percentage of parents who feel they can make “a lot of difference” in preventing asthma attacks has risen from 49 percent to 67 percent, according to the Ad Council’s tracking surveys. The hope is that the new PSAs will improve that percentage even more. 

Aug 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 4

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EBOLA UPDATE: Nigeria Confirms Second Ebola Case
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Nigeria today confirmed its second case of Ebola amidst an epidemic that has so far killed more than 700 people in West Africa. Liberia has also ordered the cremation of all bodies of people who die from Ebola, in response to communities concerned over having the bodies buried nearby. However, even as the virus continues to spread in West Africa, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told NBC that the risk posed by the return of the Ebola-infected health workers to the United States is "infinitesimally small.” The second U.S. patient is scheduled to arrive for treatment tomorrow. Read more on infectious disease.

HHS: New Committee to Advise on Children’s Health During Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the formation of a new federal committee to advise on children’s health issues during natural and manmade disasters. The National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters’ contributions will include comprehensive planning and policies to meet kids’ health needs before, during and after disasters and other public health emergencies. The committee, formed under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, includes 15 members selected from 82 nominations. Seven are from outside the federal government and 8 are from within (the full list is available here). "Ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation's children in the wake of disasters is vital to building resilience in every community,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. “We look forward to working with the committee toward this common goal." Read more on disasters.

Toledo Lifts Ban on Drinking Water; 400,000 Residents Affected Over the Weekend
The town of Toledo, Ohio, has lifted the ban on drinking water implemented over the weekend after dangerously high levels of algae were found in Lake Erie. The Great Lake provides much of the area’s drinking water. Approximately 400,000 residents were affected by the ban. Read more on water and air quality.

Jun 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 23

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Study: Indoor Cooking Can Lead to Exposure to Dangerous Pollutants
Routine cooking also routinely exposes many Americans to dangerously high levels of pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM), according to a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. While the World Health Organization is currently establishing guidelines for indoor air quality, neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor any other U.S. agency regulate indoor air quality in non-industrial buildings. Researchers determined that during the average winter week approximately 1.7 million Californians could be exposed to excessively high CO levels simply because of cooking on gas stoves without range hoods; 12 million could be exposed to excessive NO2 levels. “That’s a lot of people in California, and those results ballpark-apply across the country,” said Brett Singer, study author and a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “The EPA would say we don’t have a carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide problem in this country...In reality, we absolutely do have that problem; it’s just happening indoors.” The researchers listed improved ventilation; improved filtration; and improved building codes and standards as ways to combat the public health danger. Read more on air and water quality.

Multiple Errors Behind CDC’s Anthrax Exposure Incident
Multiple protocol breaches at a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) laboratory led to 84 workers being exposed to live anthrax, including the fact that CDC researchers allowed only 24 hours to kill the pathogens—half the recommended time—according to Reuters. So far no one has died or become ill from the unprecedented U.S. exposure incident, but they are being treated with a vaccine and antibiotics. The errors at the biosafety level 3 facility raise new concerns over lax laboratory oversight. "If the protocol was already there, then there is really no excuse for it," said Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "The question goes down to personnel and why wasn't protocol followed.” Read more on infectious disease.

Study: Autism Risk Higher in Children Whose Mothers Lived Near Commercial Pesticides
Pregnant women who live within a mile of places where commercial pesticides area used—including farms, golf courses and other public places—are more likely to have children with an autism spectrum disorder, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. In a study of approximately 1,000 families, researchers determined that depending on the kinds of chemicals used, proximity to the treated area and when during the pregnancy the mother was exposed, their children were 60 to 200 percent more likely to develop autism; exposure during the third trimester brought the highest risk. Approximately one in every 68 children has autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jun 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 18

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CDC: Two U.S. MERS-CoV Cases Did Not Spread Any Further
In May of this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced two cases of imported Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United States, with one in Florida and the other in Indiana. Both patients were health care providers who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. The CDC has now confirmed that in neither case did the disease spread to either members of the patients’ households or health care workers who treated the patients. “The negative results among the contacts that CDC considered at highest risk for MERS-CoV infection are reassuring.” said David Swerdlow, MD, who is leading CDC’s MERS-CoV response. “Today, the risk of MERS-CoV infection in the United States remains low, but it is important that we remain vigilant and quickly identify and respond to any additional importations.” Read more on infectious disease.

FDA Approves the Manufacture of Cell-based Influenza Vaccine
Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced approval to manufacture the first cell-based seasonal influenza vaccine in a U.S. facility. The Holly Springs, N.C., facility, which is owned by the Swiss company Novartis, will also be capable of manufacturing vaccines against pandemic influenza viruses. The technology was created in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. According to a statement from Robin Robinson, PhD, ASPR Director and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the cell-based vaccines will be part of multi-use approach that “strengthens everyday systems and increases our resilience in emergencies.” Read more on influenza.

Study Links Air Pollution, Cognitive Decline in Older Adults
One way to help reduce age-related cognitive decline may be to reduce air pollution, according to a new study in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Researchers determined that older adults who live in areas with low concentrations of fine particulate matter air pollution—from sources such as vehicle exhaust—made fewer cognitive errors on math and memory tests than did older adults who lived in areas with high pollution levels. “Although finding a link between the air we breathe on a daily basis and our long-term brain health is alarming, the good news is that we have made remarkable progress in the last decade in reducing levels of air pollution across the country, and there are efforts underway to further reduce air pollution,” said study co-author Jennifer Ailshire, of the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Read more on aging.

Jun 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 2

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EPA Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions 30 Percent by 2030
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans today to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The new Clean Power Plant proposal would be the first to cut emissions from existing power plants, which produce approximately one-third of the country’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates the proposed changes will help the United States avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 490,000 missed work or school days. "Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, adding “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.” Read more on air and water quality.

Study: Tax on Total Calories in Sugary Drinks the Most Effective Way to Reduce Consumption
Tying a sugary drink tax to the amount of calories in a drink rather than its serving size would be more effective at reducing their consumption, according to a new study in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. The study, which was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, determined that such a tax of four-hundredths of a penny for every calorie would reduce calorie consumption by 9.3 percent; a tax of half a cent for each ounce in a can or bottle would reduce consumption by only 8.6 percent. “It provides a better incentive to the consumer to switch to lower-calorie drinks, which would be taxed at a lower rate than higher-calorie drinks,” said Chen Zhen, MD, a research economist at the food and nutrition policy research program at Research Triangle Institute and the lead author of the study, according to The New York Times. “One of the concerns about taxing ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages is that consumers are paying the same tax whether they buy 12 ounces of a drink with 150 calories or 12 ounces of a drink with 50 calories.” Read more on nutrition.

CDC: $19.5M for Innovative Public Health Prevention Research
Late last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $19.5 million to 26 academic institutions for innovative public health prevention research to reduce health disparities. The grants will help the communities develop new methods to avoid or counter risks for chronic health care issues such as heart disease, obesity and cancer. “Prevention Research Centers have reached up to 31 million people in 103 partner communities, some of which are the most underserved in the country,” said Ursula E. Bauer, PhD, MPH., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in a release. “By involving communities in conducting and disseminating research, this network of centers ensures that effective and innovative health strategies can be readily shared and applied where most needed.” Read more on prevention.

May 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 6

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GlaxoSmithKline, Local Organizations to Give Nearly $1M in Grants to Nonprofits that Improve Community Health
In partnership with local community organizations, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is offering non-profit organizations 20 grants totaling $40,000 each in the Durham, N.C. and Philadelphia, Penn. regions through its GSK IMPACT Awards. The annual grants will be awarded to nonprofits in recognition of their exceptional achievements in contributing to a health in their regions. “Where we live matters to our health,” said Katie Loovis, Director, U.S. Community Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, GSK. “Through the GSK IMPACT Awards, we will find and honor some of the most outstanding local nonprofit organizations that are leading the difficult and often thankless work of making our community a healthier place to live.” Read more on community health.

Study: Climate Change Will Make it Harder to Keep Ozone Pollution in Check
Rising temperatures due to climate change will make it more difficult to monitor and keep in check ozone pollution in the continental United States, according to a new report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The study, to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, estimates there to be a risk for a 70 percent increase in unhealthy summertime ozone levels by 2050.  “It doesn’t matter where you are in the United States—climate change has the potential to make your air worse,” said NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister, the lead author of the new study, in a release. “A warming planet doesn’t just mean rising temperatures, it also means risking more summertime pollution and the health impacts that come with it.” The American Public Health Association (APHA) expressed strong support for the report’s findings. “As public health workers we can act to protect people from climate change’s long reach by working in concert across sectors,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “Life-saving prevention is within reach, but must include collaboration between health practitioners and our energy, agriculture and transportation leaders.” Read more on air quality.

New Rule Requires Employers to Notify Laid-off Workers of Option to Enroll for Coverage Under ACA
In addition to paying for the full cost of laid-off employees’ work-based health coverage under COBRA, employers must now also notify laid-off workers of their option to purchase health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces, according to The Wall Street Journal. The rule was issued late last week by the Obama administration. COBRA—short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985—allows laid-off workers to maintain their work-based coverage as long as they keep paying their share of the premium. The cost can be “a shock to people,” according to the newspaper, and ACA coverage can provide an alternative. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Apr 17 2014
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Recommended Reading: ‘Pollution is Segregated, Too’

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After decades of studies demonstrating that poor people and minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to live near health hazards such as toxic waste sites, landfills and congested highways, a new study in the journal PLOS One took a more refined look at a particular aspect in the area of “environmental injustice”: exposure to nitrogen dioxide. The pollutant—which is produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources—is linked to higher risk of both asthma and heart attack.

Using data from the 2000 Census, researchers determined that minorities are on average exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide. The gap varies depending where in the country they live, with the upper Midwest and the Northeast seeing the greatest disparities, as well as major cities. All told the disparity accounts for an additional 7,000 deaths due to heart disease annually.

"The biggest finding is that we have this national picture of environmental injustice and how it varies by state and by city," said Julian Marshall, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of the study, according to The Washington Post. "The levels of disparity that we see here are large and likely have health implications."

There are a number of possibilities to account for the disparities. For example, according to The Post, many “urban highways...were originally routed through minority communities that were politically easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods” and “highways and landfills also depress nearby property values, meaning that people who can afford to live elsewhere do, while those who can't remain within their influence.”

Read the full story from The New York Times here.

>>Bonus Link: April is National Minority Health Awareness month. Read more of NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the annual event here.

Mar 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 3

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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.

Feb 10 2014
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Public Health Campaign of the Month: Air Pollution and Heart Health

>>NewPublicHealth continues a new series to highlight some of the best public health education and outreach campaigns every month. Submit your ideas for Public Health Campaign of the Month to info@newPublichealth.org.

In honor of American Heart Month, held each February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) to educate the public and health care providers about the risks of air pollution to the heart.

"Over more than four decades of EPA history, we've made tremendous progress cleaning up the air we breathe by using science to understand the harmful effects of air pollution," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “While EPA continues to fight for clean air, Americans can take further action to protect their heart health by following the advice in our new PSA.”

One of EPA’s commitments in the U.S. Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy is to educate health care professionals on the health effects of air pollution, including heart risks. This PSA supports the Million Hearts Initiative, launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September 2011, to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. 

Research has shown that air pollution can trigger heart attacks, stroke and worsen heart conditions, especially in people with heart disease—that’s one in three Americans. According to the EPA, very small particles are the pollutants of greatest concern for triggering health effects from exposure to air pollutants. These particles are found in transportation exhaust, haze, smoke, dust and sometimes even in air that looks clean. Particle pollution can also be found in the air at any time of the year. 

The new PSA advises people with heart disease to check the daily, color-coded Air Quality Index forecast. At code orange or higher, particle pollution can be harmful to people with heart disease. On bad air quality days, it is recommended to reschedule outdoor exercise or to exercise indoors instead, and avoid exercising near busy roads.

Air Quality Index forecasts for more than 400 cities are available on the forecast map through a free AirNow app for iPhone and Android phones, and through the free EnviroFlash e-mail service. To sign up, visit here and click on the “Apps” or “EnviroFlash” icons.

>>Bonus Links
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Jan 20 2014
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A Closer Look at California’s Drought

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For now, California’s drought is reported to be the state’s worst in forty years, but climate scientists fear the weeks ahead could see it get even worse.

A map (right inset) produced by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center shows how dry California is compared to other states. Climatologists generate groundwater and soil moisture drought indicators each week, based on satellite data and other observations. This map, from January 13, shows the extent of the drought in California, with lighter colors indicating better soil saturation and darker colors indicating very dry land, compared to historical averages.

California’s drought has public health implications for both the state and the rest of the country for several reasons, including the potential for continued fires fueled by dry grass and trees, which pose risks such as fire injuries, smoke inhalation injuries and even death.

There could also be a produce shortage linked to the water crisis. The Associated Press has reported that city water managers in the state say the drought conditions may mean they have, on average, only about 5 percent of the needed water for consumers and farms in California. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  California supplies half of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States. Reduced crop sizes can also drive up produce prices because of a lower–than-usual supply and the need for imports, which can be more expensive because of shipping and other fees.