Category Archives: Water and air quality
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.
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.
>>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.
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.
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.