I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 8, 2010

Protecting ourselves from harmful chemical exposures: Your chance for input

National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures

http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/

Project goals – http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/nationalconversation/accomplish.html

The National Conversation’s vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people.  The goal of the National Conversation is to develop an action agenda—clear, achievable recommendations—that will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.  The action agenda will help our nation identify better ways to

  • Collect information about chemical use, people who are exposed, and the levels at which they are exposed.
  • Understand how chemicals affect people’s health.
  • Use policies and practices that tell us about risks, how to reduce harmful exposures, and how to create and use safe chemicals.
  • Prevent, prepare for, and respond to chemical-related emergencies.
  • Protect all communities from harmful chemical exposures.
  • Create a well-informed public and health care provider network to help people understand chemical exposure risks.
  • Involve the public in government decision making.
  • Encourage teamwork among partner groups and agencies.

To help with this, work groups were formed last year to discuss six cross-cutting issues.  After receiving public input, they have released draft reports for public comment.  You can download the report for each work group from the pages linked to below and submit your comments via those pages, e-mail or other means listed there.

CDC and ATSDR are working with RESOLVE, a non-profit facilitation group that will compile the comments, as well as other organizations such as the American Public Health Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and National Association of County and City Health Officials.

August 21, 2010

Nature: an antidote for what ails us?

Sites for children to learn more about nature

In a post from last spring, I discussed what some people have called “Nature Deficit Disorder” and how that could be another factor contributing to increased obesity rates, a decline in mental well-being, decreased happiness, and other problems.  Here are some resources that could help counter that.

Discover the Foresthttp://www.discovertheforest.org/

A USDA Forest Service website, sponsored in part by Dreamworks (if you’ve seen the public service announcement, you know that Shrek is part of this campaign) and The North Face.

Includes information on:

  • Where to Go – Find Forests and Parks (based on the National Wildlife Federation’s NatureFind app – see below)
  • What to Do – Forest Snapshot game, animal sounds, animal tracks, tree leaves, how to use a compass, how to become a Junior Forest Ranger.

Note about the Forest Snapshot Game: Kids have an opportunity to upload photos of their own.  This may not be widely known, but GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones can embed locational data in photos.  If they or you are posting such pictures on the Web, you are letting EVERYONE know where you live.  There are supposed to be ways to disable that feature, so if you’re concerned about that you might want to consider turning disabling that before you basically upload information about where you live to the Web.  (For more information on potential problems resulting from posting locational information, see the Please Rob Me website.)

That said, this is a neat idea.  (Note: The game took a minute or two to load on my PC.)

Provides links to resources, information on getting kids outdoors more (and maybe yourself, too!)

  • The Why page links to nature websites and tips on how to enjoy nature without ruining it.

Children and Nature Initiative

One of the Discover the Forest campaign’s recommended sites is the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiativehttp://neefusa.org/health/children_nature.htm

NEEF’s Children and Nature Initiative, launched in May 2010, addresses two important issues—preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature. Research indicates that unstructured outdoor activities may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders. The Children and Nature Initiative educates pediatric health care providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. The program also connects health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.

A fact sheet on Children’s Health and Nature describes benefits of children’s exposure to the natural environment and includes recommendations from the CDC, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine.

Problems that may be caused by (or at least exacerbated by) a lack of outdoor activity

  • Childhood obesity
  • Attention disorders
  • Vitamin D deficiency

The fact sheet includes summaries of research showing connections between nature and health.

Unstructured outdoor play time is important for children’s overall well-being. How does nature play a role in children’s health? The fact sheet describes highlights from the published literature on the health benefits of the natural environment.  Free play is important.

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC’s National Trail Days website – http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ParksAndTrails/
Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescentshttp://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm

  • Includes a Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit available for downloading

Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly on Land and Water – http://www.treadlightly.org/ – is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible outdoor recreation through ethics education and stewardship.  Learn simple ways to minimize your impact on the environment when engaging in outdoor activities.

Tread Lightly’s Tips for Responsible Recreationhttp://www.treadlightly.org/page.php/education-recreationtips/Recreation-Tips.html

Children and Nature Networkhttp://www.childrenandnature.org/

Described in an article in the Kiwi magazine blog, The Whole Child: Prescription for Playhttp://kiwimagonline.com/kiwilog/the-whole-child/the-whole-child-prescription-for-play
C&NN Bloghttp://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/
Nature Clubs for Families Toolkithttp://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/NCFF_toolkit.pdf

HEALTH BENEFITS TO CHILDREN FROM CONTACT WITH THE OUTDOORS & NATURE

http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/C&NNHealthBenefits.pdf
Includes literature reviews  and overview documents as well as summaries of articles describing benefits of children’s contact with the outdoors on children’s mental and physical health.

This document notes:

There is a strong body of evidence attributing improved health with physical activity. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that nature specifically can improve attention and other psychological aspects of health. Playing in nature can positively impact children’s health and well-being.

National Wildlife Federation’s “Green Hour” Campaign

http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/What-is-a-Green-Hour.aspx

NWF NatureFindhttp://www.nwf.org/naturefind/ – Lets you search for activities from a wide variety of sites.  Most are outdoor, but they also include events at sites like museums, botanical gardens, and nature centers.

July 9, 2010

Anticipating health effects from the BP oil spill

Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Institute of Medicine Workshop

The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine held a workshop to examine a broad range of health issues resulting from the Gulf oil spill.

Home Activity page at http://www.iom.edu/Activities/PublicHealth/OilSpillHealth.aspx.

The workshop, “Assessing the Human Health Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” was held June 22 and 23 in New Orleans. During the first day’s sessions, speakers and panelists discussed the potential adverse health effects for humans stemming from the oil spill for various populations. The second day’s sessions explored current monitoring activities, the types of research methods and data sources currently available, and questions to consider when developing short- and long-term surveillance and monitoring systems.

Presentations covered the groups at risk of exposure and possible acute, chronic, and delayed health effects.

Official U.S. Government Web Site on the Spill Response

http://www.restorethegulf.gov/

This site is apparently replacing the Deepwater Horizon website.  It contains news and links to resources from many Federal agencies.  For example, the Small Business Administration has a Disaster Assistance site for providing loans to affected small businesses.

Today’s news (from the old website) includes news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will devote $10 million to research the potential human health effects of the oil spill. The NIH National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) will recruit clean-up workers and Gulf residents to collect biological samples, health histories, and information about the clean-up work they performed and the nature of their oil exposure.

White House site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/deepwater-bp-oil-spill

The White House blog provides a timeline of the government’s response to the spill at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/issues/Deepwater-BP-Oil-Spill.

EPA testing of dispersant toxicity

On June 30 EPA posted information about the first round of toxicity testing at http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/dispersants-testing.html.  The testing was done using eight dispersants.  EPA also plans to test the toxicity of the dispersants mixed with crude oil.

Links to worker health and safety resources from OSHA and the CDC can be found on the EPA site.

Maps and data

The latest information about the oil spill’s trajectory, the position of NOAA’s research ships, spilled oil’s coastal location and the areas closed to shipping can be found at geoplatform.gov/gulfresponse/.

To access the data materials generated for and by the Deepwater Response Incident, you can go to data.gov/restorethegulf/.

Oil containment effort

McClatchy is reporting that the effort is facing two key moments, connecting a third ship to the oil containment system and replacement of the “top hat” – http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20100707/sc_mcclatchy/3559853

Oil drilling moratorium

Obama loses moratorium bid on offshore oil drilling

Court refuses stay in deepwater drilling case
Court rejects bid to restore drilling moratorium

Apparently the courts don’t believe that there’s justification for a moratorium.  This despite the fact that an Associated Press investigation found that federal regulators do not typically inspect plugging of these offshore wells or monitor for leaks afterward.  (See “Enviro groups stunned that govt ignoring 27K wells”)

Of 50,000 wells drilled over the past six decades in the Gulf, 23,500 have been permanently abandoned. Another 3,500 are classified by federal regulators as “temporarily abandoned,” but some have been left that way since the 1950s, without the full safeguards of permanent abandonment.

Abandoned offshore oil wells

The story reports that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in 1994 that leaks from abandoned offshore wells could cause “an environmental disaster.”  GAO recommended that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) set up an inspection system.  (Which MMS didn’t do. ) Although MMS did commission a 2001 study on such wells.  According to that study MMS officials were

“concerned that some abandoned oil wells in the Gulf may be leaking crude oil.” But nothing came of that warning.

The GAO report is “Offshore Oil and Gas Resources: Interior Can Improve Its Management of Lease Abandonment.”

RCED-94-82, May 11, 1994
Summary (HTML)   Full Report (PDF, 50 pages)     Recommendations (HTML)

From the summary at http://gao.gov/products/RCED-94-82

Among GAO’s findings:

  • MMS does not have an inspection strategy targeting its limited resources to ensure that wells are properly plugged and lease sites cleared
  • in March 1993, the active OCS leases in the Gulf of Mexico had estimated lease abandonment costs of about $4.4 billion, but were covered by bonds that totalled only $68 million

GAO’s recommendation (below) was closed, but not implemented.

Recommendation: In order to better protect the environment from the effects of OCS oil and gas lease abandonment and the federal government from incurring the costs of such abandonment, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, MMS, to require MMS to develop an inspection strategy for targeting its limited resources to ensure the proper plugging and abandonment of OCS wells and the clearance of lease sites.

Comments: After reviewing the results of the March 1996 study of techniques for removing offshore structures, MMS has decided that its inspection program is adequate. MMS does not intend to develop a different inspection strategy.

So not only is it an environmental disaster waiting to happen, MMS wasn’t even getting money from the oil companies that it was supposed to.

I’ve posted a list of other GAO reports on oil and gas management at https://amidthemaddingcrowd.wordpress.com/gao-reports-on-oil-and-gas-management/.

February 24, 2010

Back in the real world: Human exposure to environmental chemicals

Another type of exposure besides exposure to 24/7 connectedness that is probably affecting kids is exposure to industrial chemicals.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. (Fact Sheet / Executive Summary – 874 KB / Full report – 18 MB)

CDC has measured 212 chemicals in people’s blood or urine—75 of which have never before been measured in the U.S. population. The new chemicals include acrylamide, arsenic, environmental phenols, including bisphenol A (BPA) and triclosan, and perchlorate.  BPA was found in the urine of nearly all the people tested, a finding that indicates widespread exposure in the U.S. population.  Mercury, a known neurotoxin, was found in most of the study participants.

CDC notes:

Biomonitoring measurements are the most health-relevant assessments of exposure because they measure the amount of the chemical that actually gets into people from all environmental sources (e.g., air, soil, water, dust, or food) combined. With a few exceptions, it is the concentration of the chemical in people that provides the best exposure information to evaluate the potential for adverse health effects.

This is not a new issue.  Several years ago the Environmental Working Group released a report, Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns, which measured industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.

287 chemicals were detected in umbilical cord blood, of which 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.  The report notes that a number of human health problems are on the rise.  Fetal and childhood exposure can lead to childhood diseases or to diseases which don’t fully appear until adulthood.

So what can be done about this?

EWG has a blog on the Kid-Safe Chemical Act and the Environmental Defense Fund‘s Richard Denison has a blog on chemicals and nanomaterials.   EDF is also one of many organizations that has formed the “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families” coalition, which is pushing for reforming the way the manufacture of industrial chemicals is regulated in the United States.  One of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s main tools for doing that is a relatively unknown law called the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  The Safer Chemicals coalition presents a health case for strengthening TSCA.  (TSCA has actually been in the news quite a bit lately, so you might have heard about it.)

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