Category Archives: Water and air quality
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.
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.
E-cigarette Use Doubled for Middle, High School Students from 2011 to 2012
The use of e-cigarettes by U.S. middle and high school students more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All told about 10 percent of the students used an e-cigarette in 2012; about 2.8 percent of students reported using one within the past 30 days; and a total of 1.78 million middle and high school students tried e-cigarettes in 2012. Curbing tobacco use early is critical because its addictive qualities can lead to a life time of use, which in turn can lead to a lifetime—and a shortened lifetime, at that—of severe health problems. “About 90 percent of all smokers begin smoking as teenagers,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. “We must keep our youth from experimenting or using any tobacco product. These dramatic increases suggest that developing strategies to prevent marketing, sales, and use of e-cigarettes among youth is critical.” Read more on tobacco.
U.S. Preterm Birth Rate at Lowest Point in 15 Years in 2012
The U.S. preterm birth rate was down to just 11.54 percent in 2012, its lowest point in 15 years and the sixth consecutive year the rate has fallen, according to a new preliminary date from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. The pre-term rate reached a high of 12.8 percent in 2006. Jennifer L. Howse, MD, president of the March of Dimes, attributed the impressive drop to the efforts of the many state and local health departments; hospital partners; and physicians and nurses. “This sustained improvement over these past six consecutive years shows that when infant health becomes a priority, babies benefit,” she said, adding “We will continue to implement proven interventions and accelerate our investment in new research to prevent preterm birth so one day every baby will get a healthy start in life.” Infants who are born preterm (defined as 3 of more weeks before their due date) are at increased risk for health problems such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, respiratory problems, visual problems, hearing loss and digestive problems, according to the CDC. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Water Sanitation-based Outbreaks Still a Problem for Many Americans
Despite overall improvements, U.S. water sanitation is still a problem in some areas, with bacteria-laden drinking water leading to 1,040 illnesses, 85 hospitalizations and nine deaths in 17 states from 2009 to 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legionella-tainted plumbing systems, untreated groundwater and problems with distribution systems were the leading causes of the 33 identified outbreaks. California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Vermont all reported drinking water-related outbreaks during that period. According to the CDC report, more research is needed into controlling Legionella, and more must be done to improve early detection and correction of problems with water-distribution systems. Read more on water and air quality.
Today is World Water Day and in remarks at the State Department this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out that the U.S. is not immune to the issue. “We are pursuing this not only because we care about it around the world; we care about it here at home. We’ve had increasing problems meeting our own needs in the Desert Southwest or managing floods in the East. No country anywhere, no matter how developed, is immune to the challenges that we face,” said Clinton.
In the U.S. water crises are more likely to be linked to emergencies such as weather disasters that can interrupt or contaminate water supplies:
Public health used to be something that happened behind the scenes and below the public consciousness. More and more, public health issues are making headlines and even coming to a theater near you, with movies like Contagion and The Interrupters. Now, public health even has a film festival to call its own.
Fast Forward Health is a film festival platform to showcase innovation in public and community health. The festival will take place November 1 at the West End Theater in Washington, DC. In advance of the festival, NewPublicHealth spoke with Andre Blackman, festival organizer, managing editor of Pulse+Signal, and director of digital communications and new media for the Mid-Atlantic American Heart Association.
NewPublicHealth: How did the idea for the Fast Forward Health film festival come about?
Andre Blackman: My interest has always been in public health innovation and new ideas and technology and thinking outside the box. One of the things that I got a little frustrated with after marinating in the public health world for a while and seeing the same thing over and over again as far as reports for issues or communities having the same tone each and every time – you know, a certain population is dying again, and they pull out the scrolling list of different diseases and conditions. I just felt there was way too much doom and gloom with public health.
Being in the social media world and being connected with individuals and projects here and across the world, I started seeing things that really excite me about the field – people standing up and making a difference. I really wanted to bring that into something that’s fun and interesting and really highlights and celebrates the innovation that’s happening. For the past year and a half I’ve been moving into the film and media world. I thought that would be a perfect intersection. I haven’t seen too many other initiatives like Fast Forward Health, celebrating these accomplishments in public health through film and video.
NPH: What themes will Fast Forward Health focus on?
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have announced a national partnership to use federal funds to train people for jobs in the water industry, including jobs related to safe drinking water and waste water. The industry currently has a shortage of trained staff, which could compromise public safety.
A recent study in the journal Stroke found an increased risk of stroke in women diagnosed with depression, according to a news release. One reason for the increase may be that depression can keep people from taking care of health conditions that can lead to stroke, such as hypertension.
Women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of heart disease than men who smoke, according to a study in The Lancet.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new urine test that may aid early detection of, and treatment decisions about, prostate cancer, according to a news release. The test, reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, would be an add-on to current testing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on measures – including hand washing – that can help prevent disease transmission after people handle pets in public settings, such as zoos and county fairs.
The heat advisory released today from the National Weather Service, which notes that “from the southern Plains to the Atlantic coast, conditions will remain dangerously hot through at least the end of the work week,” comes with an additional advisory:
“If you work or spend time outside in an area under a heat advisory or warning, take precautions to avoid heat-related stress or illness.”
The heat illness addition to the weather advisory is part of a campaign launched this season by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in an effort to prevent the tens of heat-related deaths and thousands of illnesses that occurred last year among U.S. workers work who toil in the sun. Jobs requiring long stretches in the sun include farming, landscaping, construction, road repair, airport baggage handling and even car sales.
“It’s very important for workers and employers to take the steps necessary to stay safe in extreme heat," says David Michaels, Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. "Drinking water often, taking breaks and limiting time in the heat are simple, effective ways to prevent heat illness.”
OSHA has developed heat illness materials in English and Spanish, as well as a curriculum to be used for workplace training. Workers fearful of losing a job or an hour’s pay may be reluctant to abide by heat illness protection recommendations – but employers have a legal duty to protect their workers from hot conditions. Last week the California Department of Industrial Relations shut down an agricultural company for failing to protect workers in temperatures that registered 105 degrees before noon.
Weigh In: Have there been heat-related employee deaths in your community?
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.
One year later, the oil is not all gone, many communities are continuing to struggle, and there are significant questions about health impacts that need to be addressed.
Research shows that a walk in the park is more than just a nice way to spend an afternoon. It's an essential component for good health, according to University of Illinois environment and behavior researcher Frances "Ming" Kuo.
A major campaign launched Tuesday to combat prescription drug abuse, one of the nation's fastest growing drug problems.
What race best describes your background? That one question, which appears on most paperwork for health care, could leave entire groups of people underserved and contribute to racial health disparities, according to new research from Rice University published in the current issue of the journal Demography.
Minority children in the United States born with heart defects are more likely to die in early childhood than whites, a new study finds.
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)