Category Archives: 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.

Jan 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 14

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HHS: 2.2M Enrolled for Coverage Under Affordable Care Act Through December
Despite a glitch-filled October 1 launch that saw only about 27,000 people enroll in the first month, by December 28 an estimated 2.2 million Americans had enrolled for health coverage available through the Affordable Care Act, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state and federal online marketplaces enrolled nearly 1.8 million in December alone. Of the 2.2 million enrollees:

  • 54 percent are female and 46 percent are male
  • 30 percent are age 34 and under
  • 24 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34
  • 60 percent selected a Silver plan, while 20 percent selected a Bronze plan
  • 79 percent selected a plan with Financial Assistance

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Task Force Recommends All Pregnant Women Be Screened for Gestational Diabetes
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending that all pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of pregnancy complications (such as preeclampsia) and labor complications, due to the baby growing larger than normal. Newborns are also at higher risk of low blood sugar levels after being exposed to the mother’s high blood sugar. Early diagnosis and treatment—lifestyle changes, blood sugar monitoring and insulin—can reduce the risks for both mother and child.  "The number of women who have gestational diabetes is rising, and gestational diabetes has effects not only on the mother, but also on the baby," said task force chairwoman Virginia Moyer, MD, vice president for maintenance of certification and quality at the American Board of Pediatrics. "We want to prevent adverse outcomes for both of them." Read more on maternal and infant health.

West Virginia Closer to Restoring Safer Tap Water After Chemical Leak
About 35,000 people in the area of Charleston, West Virginia, can now drink their tap water safely after it was declared usable again, according to West Virginia American Water. More than 300,000 customers were told their water was unsafe to drink and or use for washing after it was discovered last week that as much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, from Freedom Industries had leaked into the Elk River. Officials estimate it will take a few more days before the entire system is once again safe. MCHM-tainted water can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin; 231 people visited emergency departments with symptoms and 14 were admitted. Read more on water and air quality.

Jan 6 2014
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Oral Health as a Critical Public Health Challenge: Q&A with CDC’s Barbara Gooch

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Late last year the Grand Rounds program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a webinar on water fluoridation, a public health intervention that has been a priority in the United States for nearly seventy years.

Fluoridation, which has been shown to significantly reduce cavities in children, has been recognized by the CDC as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. Despite the benefits such as cost savings, however, CDC says there are ongoing challenges in promoting and expanding fluoridation.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Barbara Gooch, DMD, MPH, Associate Director for Science in the Division of Oral Health at CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, about the challenges and benefits of water fluoridation and other emerging oral health improvement opportunities.

NewPublicHealth: What has been the historical impact of fluoridating water in the United States?

Dr. Barbara Gooch: All water generally contains fluoride, but usually at a level too low to prevent tooth decay, so community water fluoridation is a controlled adjustment of fluoride in a public water supply to an optimum concentration for the prevention of tooth decay.

That optimal concentration has historically been set at about 1 milligram (mg) of fluoride per liter of water, or 1 part per million. Fluoride was first introduced in the United States in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1945. For cities that implemented community water fluoridation in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a dramatic reduction in tooth decay among children. Sometimes that reduction was greater than 50 percent. It has really been a major factor leading to the improvement in U.S. oral health.

When we compare the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey done in the early 1970s with one conducted from 1999 to 2004, we found that the percentage of adolescents with one or more decayed teeth decreased from 90 percent in the early 1970s to 60 percent in the ’99-’04 National Survey. And while the number of teeth affected by tooth decay was an average of six in the 1970s survey, the instance was reduced to fewer than three in the later survey.

NPH: There are other sources of fluoride now, such as toothpaste. Is community water fluoridation still important?

Gooch: Current studies indicate that community water fluoridation increases the prevention of tooth decay by an additional 25 percent despite other sources. But the other very important factor about community water fluoridation is in order to receive its benefits, if you live in a fluoridated community. all you have to do is drink the tap water. And we can also show cost savings. One study estimates that for every dollar spent on community water fluoridation, you save about $38 in dental treatment costs.

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