Category Archives: Environmental health
NewPublicHealth Q&A: Florence Fulk and Tami Thomas-Burton on the Impact of the Environment on Health
Florence Fulk, MS, BS, a research biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tami Thomas-Burton, BS, MPH, of the Office of the Regional Administrator-Environmental Justice at EPA, will be speaking at the National Health Impact Assessment meeting this week on HIAs and environmental policy. NewPublicHealth caught up with Fulk and Thomas-Burton ahead of the conference to ask about EPA’s use of health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: What steps has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken with respect to health impact assessments?
Florence Fulk: Within EPA is the Office of Research and Development, and within that office we have a Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program which is providing tools, models and approaches to support HIAs across the country. We’re also demonstrating HIA as an approach to integrate and weigh tradeoff in community decision making.
NPH: Why is the EPA investing in health impact assessments?
Fulk: The primary vision for the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is to inform and empower communities to look at human health, economic and environmental factors in their decision making, and to do it in a way that fosters community sustainability. And that vision is very closely linked to the values and the function of HIAs. The number of HIAs that are being conducted in the United States and the number of people that are conducting HIAs in the United States has formed this growing community of practice, which can inform our Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program by understanding the decisions that communities are facing and how they’re bringing health, economic and environmental information to the process.
We also see that by growing a community of practice as a network to disseminate EPA tools, models, data and guidance, the research that we do to support HIAs also gives us a way to raise awareness about sustainable alternatives in community decisions.
In the 1970s and 80s, residents of the Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, were so anxious to leave the crime-ridden area that many residential and commercial buildings—once majestic and architecturally rich—were torched and empty for decades. Now fifty years later there’s a waiting list of thousands for Via Verde, a new low- and middle-income Bronx housing complex that opened last year. Many features set the complex apart from almost any other housing development in the United States, including an emphasis on greenery from almost every vantage point of the building. This helps create a calming and beautiful atmosphere for the residents, many of whom grew up in crowded housing projects where any nearby parks were usually too dangerous to enjoy.
Why is housing important for health? A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations. Living in unaffordable housing also leaves fewer resources for the things that can keep a family healthy, such as healthy food or preventative health care. Low-income housing also has a reputation for being unhealthy, and for good reason—more than 6 million housing units in the U.S. have deficiencies such as lead paint hazards; allergens, dampness and mold that can trigger asthma; and unsafe structural issues that can cause falls and other injuries. Via Verde and other similar efforts seek to change all that, with housing that is not only affordable but also safe, healthy and even environmentally sound and sustainable (which in turn also saves on costs).
The design for Via Verde was the winner of a 2006 competition hosted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); and the Enterprise Foundation. It was New York City’s first juried design competition for affordable and sustainable housing.
While residential use of lead-based paint has been banned in the U.S. since 1978, millions of homes still have the paint, and the health dangers it brings with it, on their walls. Lead paint has been linked to cognitive and behavior issues as well as anemia and even death, especially in young children because their brains are still developing. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half a million children ages 1 through 5 have potentially dangerous blood lead levels.
In Philadelphia, according to the 2009 American Housing Survey data, 91.6 percent of the housing units were built before 1978. Exacerbating the issue, close to 30 percent of families live in poverty, which can delay household maintenance and lead to peeling paint—a major lead risk to children in older homes. Studies also show that the number of children in Philadelphia with elevated blood levels is higher than the national average.
“This problem requires a public health solution since [preventing childhood] lead exposure…involves multiple stakeholders, including the child and parents, the property owner, and the local authorities who make and enforce laws, ordinances and codes,” says Carla Campbell an associate teaching professor in the School of Public Health at Drexel University. Campbell is the author of a new study on a lead court established in Philadelphia in 2003. The lead court is designed to speed the cleanup of lead hazards in apartments and rented homes. Campbell’s research was funded by the Public Health Law Research, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based at the Temple University School of Law. Campbell’s study appears in a special issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law focused on public health law research.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Carla Campbell about Philadelphia’s lead court and the implications of its success for other public health issues.
NewPublicHealth: What did your study find?
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.
- An infographic on the dangerous materials in cigarette butts
- A toolkit to help spread the word about what people can do to rid the earth of cigarette butts
- Television and radio Public Service Announcement
Watch the PSA "Toxic Litter Everywhere" below.
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?
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?
Older adults may be at increased risk of being hospitalized for lung and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes after long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health. The study, published in PLoS One, is the first to look at the link between long-term effects of exposure to fine particles in the air and rates of hospital admissions.
Between 2000 and 2009 in the United States, the annual rate of maternal opiate use increased nearly fivefold and diagnosis of drug withdrawal syndrome among newborns increased three-fold according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Use of opioids and other illegal drugs is associated with a significantly increased risk of adverse neonatal outcomes including low birth weight and death, according to the study authors. The research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program.
The Department of Justice has announced that it has settled its lawsuit against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation for discriminating against women on maternity leave in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement is the department’s first involving discrimination against women and families in mortgage insurance.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 and alleged that MGIC required women on maternity leave to return to work before the company would insure their mortgages, even for women who had a guaranteed right to return to work after the leave.
The Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed the detection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a dairy cow from central California. The USDA says the animal will be destroyed and had not been for slaughtered for human consumption, so at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health. Additionally, according to USDA, milk does not transmit BSE.
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report, released today, finds that in America’s most polluted cities, air quality was at its cleanest since the organization began releasing the report thirteen years ago as efforts continue to make environmental hazards.
However, the report shows that more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health--127 million people are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause serious health problems such as wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.
Implantable pacemakers or defibrillators may pose a risk for developing deadly infections, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study shows that more than 4.2 million people in the US had a permanent pacemaker or defibrillator implanted between 1993 and 2008, and that infections related to heart devices infections increased 210 percent during that time, according to the study.
The study authors say a contributing factor may be that some patients may have other medical conditions and be particularly vulnerable to developing infections.
The Environmental Protection Agency is inviting people to write six-word “micro essays” about Earth in observance of Earth Day this Sunday. Many of the micro-essays will be featured on the EPA home page and on the EPA’s social media channel.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote: Healthier families, cleaner communities, stronger America.
NewPublic Health’s entry: Live, Learn, Work, Play and Breathe.
The EPA has a webpage devoted to Earth Day(and the days beyond—when we should still be decreasing our energy usage, reusing and recycling as much as we can, and using human-powered transportation whenever possible). Other EPA resources include:
- A map of Earth Day activities throughout the nation—for example, Birmingham, Ala., will hold the country’s largest Earth Day parade, while Georgia Tech’s Earth Day celebration includes eco-friendly giveaways, recycling opportunities, a clothing swap, an office supply exchange and organic popcorn.
- Join an EPA discussion group on the environment or start your own.
- Choose Five things to commit to doing to help protect the environment
- Sign on for EPA’s Green Tips such as, "Leaving your car at home twice a week can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year."
>>Bonus Earth Day activity: The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently held an Emergency Stockpile Recipe Contest. The contest was part of the APHA’s Get Ready Campaign, which helps Americans become prepared for disasters and emergencies. What makes the recipes so Earth Day-appropriate is that none require an energy source for preparation and are made from foods you’d stockpile for an emergency (be sure to replace any cans or packages you take out of your stash, though). The winners:
>>Weigh In: What are you doing for Earth Day?
The Department of the Interior has released the "Environmental Justice Strategic Plan 2012-2017."
The plan sets forth goals, strategies and measures to help the Interior Department work more effectively with disadvantaged communities to reduce environmental and health hazards, and outlines steps that the department will take to help protect communities facing disproportionate health and environmental risks.
“Every community deserves a healthy environment in which to live, learn, work, and play,” says Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Salazar says the Strategic Plan will help the Department to better serve minority and low-income communities, including American Indian tribes, by assisting local efforts to recover from environmental, economic and public health impacts associated with abandoned coal mines and industrial pollution, increase the efforts of government agencies to identify and use federal resources to the benefit of environmentally and economically distressed communities; to participate in community revitalization and economic development initiatives; and to conduct community outreach and education projects.
Throughout 2011, representatives from Interior participated in several listening sessions across the country including the 2011 and 2012 listening sessions held during the Alaska Forum on the Environment.
>>Read the Strategic Plan.