Category Archives: Environment

Apr 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 24

New York City Moves to Ban Cigarette Sales to People Under 21
A bill introduced to the New York City Council would ban cigarette sales to anyone under the age of 21. The current age limit is 18. "Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age 21," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "By delaying our city's children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we're decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city." Though not introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he does support the bill. New York City also has the highest taxes on cigarettes of any U.S. city, with a city tax of $1.50 on top of a state tax of $4.35. Read more on tobacco.

Insurance Authorization Delays Trap Psychiatric Patients in ERs
Thousands of hours of physician time is lost each year caring for emergency department patients in need of psychiatric care, but waiting for insurance authorization to be admitted into the hospital, according to a letter to be published in the May issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. Researchers found that about half of authorizations were completed in less than 20 minutes, but 10 percent took at least an hour. About 2.5 million people are admitted to hospitals for psychiatric care each year. "Psychiatric care is really the poor stepchild in the world of insurance coverage," said lead author Amy Funkenstein, MD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I.. "Insurance carriers reimburse poorly and as a consequence, hospitals often have inadequate resources for patients who urgently need this care. The situation is so dire that ERs are now being designed and configured to house psychiatric patients awaiting placement as inpatients. These patients deserve better." Read more on mental health.

Report Finds Positive, Negative News on U.S. Air Quality
Areas across the country have seen a mix in terms of improvement of air quality over the past decade, according to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA). "The long-term trend is positive and headed to much cleaner air," said author Janice Nolen, ALA's assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy. "[However], there is an uptick in some areas that are a concern and some areas where the problem remains very, very serious." Approximately half of the 25 most polluted cities in 2000 saw improvements in air quality, with the others seeing declines. And some of the “improved” cities still were highly polluted, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield, Calif. Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, New York City and Washington, D.C. were the other cities with the highest levels of ozone. Overall, the report found that 132 million people were living in 254 counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Read more on environment.

Apr 16 2013
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Recommended Viewing: No Butts

What’s the number one littered item on U.S. roadways? Cigarette butts.

And that’s not much of a surprise given a new survey from Legacy, an advocacy group focused on ending youth smoking, and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which found that more than 44 percent of those polled who’ve smoked admit to having dropped a cigarette on the ground. And nearly 32 percent of responders who’ve smoked have dropped a cigarette out of a car window.

Cigarette butts do way more harm than simply adding to unsightly litter. The butts include the cigarette’s plastic filter, which pose risks to animals and biodegrade only under extreme conditions. And cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, as well as chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife and can contaminate water sources.

Legacy and Leave No Trace have developed a suite of materials to help push people to action and reduce the butt litter.

Watch the PSA "Toxic Litter Everywhere" below.

Apr 2 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 2

Study: Chickenpox Vaccine Provides Long-Term Protection
A new study published online in the journal Pediatrics confirmed that the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is effective at preventing chicken pox, and that the effectiveness does not wane over a 14-year period. One dose provided excellent protection against moderate to severe disease. Consistent protection was important because chickenpox infection in older teens and adults can be much more serious than it generally is in childhood, according to the study author, in an interview with HealthDay. The study data also suggest that the vaccine may also reduce the risks of shingles, another type of infection caused by the chickenpox virus that tends to affect people later in life. The study followed a total of 7,585 children vaccinated with varicella vaccine in their second year of life in 1995 for 14 years to see if they developed either chickenpox or shingles. Read more on vaccination.

EPA Proposes Measures to Cut Air Pollution, Improve Population Health
Based on input from auto manufacturers, refiners, and states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new standards for cars and gasoline that will significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. Once fully in place, experts say the standards will help avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths per year and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children. The measures will also prevent 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits, and 1.8 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution. Total health-related benefits in 2030 are expected to be between $8 and $23 billion annually. The new standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent, which will also enable vehicle emission control technologies to perform more efficiently. Read more on environmental health.

New Jersey Bans Children from Tanning Beds
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday banning children under 17 from using commercial tanning beds. Tanning before age 35 has been shown to increase the risk for melanoma by 75 percent. The new law also bans children under 14 from getting spray tans in tanning salons, which could impact social norms around young teens wanting to look tan if their friends look tan. Read more on safety.

Mar 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 28

NOAA Report Helps U.S. Regions Prepare for Spring Droughts, Floods
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) new three-month U.S. Spring Outlook predicts above-average temperatures will strike areas already afflicted by drought—such as Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains—while places such as North Dakota can expect significant river flooding. The report looks at the likelihood of flooding and predicts temperature, precipitation and drought across the country. "We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what's likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather's impacts on lives and livelihoods,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service. “A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst." Read more on preparedness.

CDC Ad Campaign to Continue to Share the Stories, Troubles of Former Smokers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has re-launched last year's successful national ad campaign with a second series of ads telling the true stories of former smokers now living with the effects of their addiction—such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe adult asthma and heart disease. The campaign will run on television, radio, billboards and online, as well as in theaters, magazines and newspapers. "The Tips from Former Smokers campaign shows the painful effects of smoking through former smokers, in a way that numbers alone cannot," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "These are the kinds of ads that smokers tell us help motivate them to quit, saving lives and money." The ads are funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Read more on the campaign.

Experts Expect More Severe, Lengthy Spring Allergies
Springtime means allergies for many across the United States, and higher pollen counts means the people who suffer from seasonal allergies can expect this year’s to be more severe and last longer, according to Kevin McGrath, MD, of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. That means more sneezing, itchiness and fatigue. "We've seen record pollen counts for trees and ragweed [the most common fall allergy trigger] for the past few years, and the seasons may be a bit longer—about six to seven more days in the Midwest and a few more days in the Northeast," said McGrath, according to HealthDay. David Lang, MD, section head of allergy and immunology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, recommends beginning medication early and avoiding the triggers as much as possible. Read more on environment.

Feb 20 2013
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Park Yourself Here

Parklet An example of a simple parklet idea

A high point of the recent New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City was a demonstration project of “parklets” placed around the conference session break spaces  to showcase a burgeoning trend—parking spaces converted to green spaces during warmer weather, or year round, depending on the surrounding climate. The parklets help add an active living feel to urban centers.

“They increase street life, which in turn increases more street life,” says Ariel Ben Amos, senior planner/analyst for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities in Philadelphia, who heads the city’s parklet effort and lead the presentation on parklets at the New Partners conference.

New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and other cities now all have parklets. Some are elaborate block-long spaces with comfortable seating; others aren’t much more than a few large plants and a chair. The concept got a push several years ago in San Francisco when activists created “parking day” by feeding a meter intended for cars, but used the space for seating. Studies of parklets conducted in San Francisco have found they increase foot traffic to the businesses they surround, and in New York they are often oases for weary tourists looking for a patch of home on the parklet strip near Times Square.

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Dec 31 2012
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Video: How Our Environments Affect Our Health

When it comes to being healthy, what happens outside the doctor’s office can be just as important as what happens in an examination room—sometimes even more. The environment you call home plays a tremendous role in your health.

But which types of environments and communities will help you stay the healthiest? A series of videos from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research highlights ongoing federal research into how to create communities where healthy choices are the easy choices.

Dr. David R. Williams: The Social Factors of Health
Williams, MPH, PhD, is a social scientist at Harvard University who believes that where we live, learn, work and play have more to do with our health than doctor visits. His work focuses on the opportunities and barriers that affect healthy living.

Dr. Ana Diez-Roux: The Science of Environmental Factors of Health
Diez-Roux, MD, PhD, is an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. Her work looks at the social determinants that influence our health.

Dr. David Schwebel: The Science of Child Safety
Schwebel, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research and the Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His work applies basic psychological and behavioral principles to the real-life problem of preventing children’s injuries.

>>UPDATE: Find transcripts, photos and more from the researchers at NIH:

Nov 28 2012
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Hurricane Sandy: Recovering from Environmental Dangers in New Jersey

New Jersey

Concerned by reports that volunteers and New Jersey residents are frequently unaware of environmental dangers when cleaning up homes and communities, the New Jersey Department of Health released an advisory earlier this week with advice on staying safe while scrubbing and rehabbing. Mold and materials containing asbestos and lead-based paint are examples of potential hazards in storm-damaged buildings and the advisory urged those tackling the heavy jobs to wear protective equipment appropriate for the work they are doing such as waterproof boots, gloves, goggles, and face masks.

"Homeowners doing cleanup work and the volunteers assisting them are critical assets in New Jersey's recovery efforts, but making sure they protect themselves is equally important," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd.

NewPublicHeatlh recently spoke about Hurricane Sandy clean-up safety with Donna Leusner, director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Health; Tina Tan, MD, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner for epidemiology, environmental and occupational health and Joe Eldridge, director of New Jersey’s Consumer, Environmental and Occupational Health Service.

NewPublicHealth: What kind of environmental concerns specifically are there for those cleaning up the community after the storm?

Dr. Tan: There are concerns about individuals coming into contact with contaminated materials, whether contaminated with chemicals or infectious agents—residuals from flood waters as well as the general debris that might be around. We encourage individuals to take the appropriate precautions to try to avoid any sort of injuries or potential illnesses that could result from contact with these contaminated materials.

NPH: Are people aware of the critical basic information for safe cleanup, such as getting a tetanus shot if they’re injured during the cleanup in such terrible conditions? 

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Nov 16 2012
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Emergency Preparedness and Environmental Health: Q&A with NACCHO's David Dyjack

David Dyjack David Dyjack, National Association of County and City Health Officials

Among the impacts of the East Coast’s Hurricane Sandy have been tens of thousands of uprooted trees, contaminated water and tons of compromised food. A recent article in the Journal of Environmental Health Natural recommends that environmental health become an integral part of emergency preparedness and that community stakeholders take a role in merging the two.

David Dyjack, DrPH, associate executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and a co-author of the study, spoke with NewPublicHealth about building momentum to include environmental health in disaster emergency preparedness.

NewPublicHealth: What does the article address?

David Dyjack: The article is the first step in a series of research steps looking at how best to integrate environmental health and emergency preparedness so that communities are more resilient and take greater responsibility for their own health and safety in the event of an environmental disaster.

NPH: What is distinct about environmental health emergency preparedness? 

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Oct 19 2012
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Ramona Trovato, Environmental Protection Agency: National Prevention Strategy Series

Ramona Trovato Ramona Trovato, Environmental Protection Agency

In a new interview with Ramona Trovato, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NewPublicHealth continues its conversation series about the National Prevention Strategy. The strategy was released last year by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, to help create a healthier and more fit nation.

Earlier this year the Surgeon General’s office released the Strategy’s National Action Plan, designed to show how the 17 Federal Agencies charged with advancing the National Prevention Strategy are implementing its vital components. The EPA has several partner initiatives critical to the health of the nation, which include:

  • Partnership for Sustainable Communities: The EPA is a partner, together with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in this partnership to help communities improve access to affordable housing and transportation while protecting the environment, all critical aspects of healthy living.
  • Green Ribbon Schools: EPA is a partner with the Department of Education and other agencies for this recognition award that encourages state education agencies and schools to recognize the links between education, health, and the environment, and to make all three of these areas a priority.
  • Safe routes to school: Agencies including HHS, EPA and the Department of Transportation support efforts to improve the ability of students to walk and bicycle to school safely.
  • Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children: This multi-agency task force, which includes the EPA, recommends strategies for protecting children's health and safety, including specific priorities around asthma, unintentional injuries, lead poisoning, cancer, and environmental health in schools.
  • Aging Initiative: This EPA initiative aims to prioritize environmental health hazards that affect older persons, focus on “smart growth” principals to support active aging, and examine the environmental impact of an aging population, and encourage civic involvement among older persons in their communities to reduce hazards. 

Ramona Trovato shared with us EPA’s long history of health promotion and its current efforts to help improve population health as a member agency of the National Prevention Council.

NewPublicHealh: How does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) align itself with the National Prevention Strategy?

Ramona Trovato: The EPA is really pleased to be part of the National Prevention Council and the National Prevention Strategy. We firmly believe in preventing ill health and in promoting wellness, and it’s something that matters to us in all the work that we do. We have very successfully partnered with Department of Health and Human Services in the past and with a number of other federal agencies including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to benefit the public’s health.

NPH: What are the key roles of the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting the nation’s health?

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Sep 17 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: September 17

Study Recommends Treatment for Mini Strokes
transient ischemic attack  or a “mini stroke,” can lead to serious disability, but is often thought of as too mild to treat, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Stroke. Among the 499 patients studied, 15 percent had at least minor disability 90 days after their original mini stroke. Computed tomography (CT) scans showed some mini stroke patients had narrowed blood vessels in the brain, and others reported ongoing or worsening symptoms. Those patients were more than twice as likely to have disability at 90 days. The researchers say imaging should be done on all mini stroke patients to determine whether treatment is needed. Read more on access to health care.

Wildfire Smoke Linked to Low Birth Weights
Pregnant women exposed to wildfire smoke during Southern California’s 2003 fire season had babies with lower birth weights when compared to babies not exposed to the smoke, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. The researchers say the finding is important because climate change is expected to increase the number of wildfires in the United States. The study was published in Environmental Health PerspectivesRead more on the environment.

Violent Video Games Linked to Reckless Driving in Teens
A new study in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture finds that teens who play video games that emphasize risk and violence may be more likely to take risks when driving. Read more on violence.