Health Effects of the Oil Spill

18 06 2010

Oil spill—say those two words in a group of people and you’ll likely see responses ranging from anger to confusion to despair. The worst environmental disaster of our age is difficult to comprehend much less address in any real way. The extent of the damage to air, water, and soil quality won’t be understood for a long time, though they are being monitored very closely by CDC, EPA, and other organizations.

As parents, our first concern is the potential impact of the oil spill on our children’s health. Since the spill is happening now, data isn’t yet available to help us understand the health challenges the people of the Gulf Coast region, and more specifically the children in that area, will face. And what of those children already living with health challenges such as chronic infections? How will the spill impact their quality of life? No one knows.

According to former CDC Director John Howard, even the long-term impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill aren’t fully understood, noting that “One of the deficiencies there is that we were able to ascertain some acute effects but we didn’t follow through for chronic effects,” he said. “To be able to identify chronic effects, you have to start very early.”

While anecdotal evidence indicates the clean-up crew who worked the 1989 Valdez spill suffer from the Valdez Crud, no studies were conducted addressing the health dangers posed to Alaskan children by that spill.

Dr. Gina Solomon says that clean-up crew who worked more than “20 days in highly polluted areas, performing 3 or more tasks, having skin contact with oil, or eating while in contact with oil” were more likely to suffer dizziness, nausea, sore throats, and itchy eyes.

Environmental impacts are being felt by those living in the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. There are no definitive estimates about the eventual range of the spill, nor are there any estimates about the date of containment. To stay current with the potential health impacts of the spill, check with CDC’s Health Surveillance.

Food – Seafood safety is particularly concerning during this spill. Though Louisiana has closed some areas of the coastline for seafood harvesting, other areas remain open. Both the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) and the FDA are charged with public notification if or when seafood becomes contaminated. Currently, the FDA assures people that seafood is still safe to eat.

Air – The EPA is monitoring air quality using mobile labs along the coastlines of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.  As of 16 June, these labs have not detected levels of toxins such as propylene glycol high enough to cause health effects.  However, the dispersants used to clean up the spill do pose a risk to those working in clean-up efforts and those near these efforts.

Water – According to the EPA, drinking water should not be impacted by the spill. However, water used for recreation and industries such as fishing is obviously impacted. Each of the four states offer state-specific information via the CDC website.

Protecting the health of our children during an environmental disaster requires special care, patience, and persistence. As the potential health effects of the Gulf oil spill become known, more specific actions will be required.

What We can Do Now to Protect Our Family’s Health

  1. Monitor air quality and stay indoors if air quality becomes too poor
  2. Stay current with the CDC health updates
  3. Call the Environmental Hotline/Community Information Line with specific health questions- 866.448.5816
  4. Before heading to a specific beach, check the status of the spill in that area
  5. Exposure to crude oil, even in small amounts, can lead to dizziness, nausea, and blurred vision, and if your child is near a contaminated beach and complains of any of these symptoms, immediately take him or her to the doctor
  6. If your child is exposed to oil or oil residue, wash the area immediately using soap and water, or an oil-removing cleanser. For children with respiratory problems, the effect of the spill on air quality in and around Gulf Coast beaches will be exacerbated for them

What You Can Do to Help:

  1. If you live in the region, report any oiled wildlife
  2. Volunteer your time to help clean-up efforts
  3. Add the EPA oil spill widget to your Facebook page or website in order to inform more people about actions they can take in the wake of the spill.


Child Mortality – Make a Difference

7 06 2010

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Ghandi

If child mortality rates are the canary in the coal mine of a nation’s ability to care for its people, then Ghandi had it right. Even with its advantages, the United States struggles to care for the most vulnerable among the population.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. has seen a 42 percent decline in child mortality. This sounds good, until we realize that Kazakhstan, Sierra Leone and Angola all saw the same rate of decline. Given our resources, it seems that we should be doing better than that.

Despite spending a boatload of money on healthcare, the U.S. continues to have frustratingly high rates of preventable disease.

The link between preventable disease and child mortality is part of the clarion call of healthcare reformers, who hope that new legislation will expand coverage for preventive care and make healthcare more affordable.

Whether the recent overhaul can fix this country’s uneven and expensive healthcare system is not yet known.

It’s just not acceptable for children in this or any country to die before they’ve had a chance to live. Here’s what can be done to reduce child mortality rates around the world. We must ensure that everyone in need has access to:

  • Vaccines
  • Soap
  • Basic health education – hygiene, nutrition, prevention
  • Safe water
  • Sanitation/toilets
  • Breastfeeding
  • Improved pre/neo/postneonatal care
  • Antibiotics
  • Insecticide-treated bed nets
  • Micronutrient supplementation

Buy a net for someone, educate your neighbor on immunizations, encourage new moms to breastfeed. We can all do one thing and by doing it, we’ll help kids have a chance at life.


Memorial Day

28 05 2010

It just takes one. One friend or brother, one parent or child. Lose one person you love to war, and you know what Memorial Day is all about.

Memorial Day started perhaps during the Civil War, when women decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.  After all, it used to be called Decoration Day. But, no one really knows who started it, or where, and it’s probable that it was borne from the zeitgeist of the time.

A few years after the Civil War ended, in May of 1868, Decoration Day was established by a group of Union veterans as a day for the graves of the fallen to be decorated with flowers. The 30th of May was chosen as a day when flowers around the country would most likely be in bloom.

In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and moved it to the last Monday in May.

Have you seen the red poppies worn by some on Memorial Day? That tradition started with Moina Michael and her poem “We Shall Keep Faith” (which was itself inspired by “In Flander’s Fields,” a poem by John McCrae):

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

In 2000, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance, when at 3pm local time, on Memorial Day, Americans across the country stop for one moment to honor and remember those who’ve died for this country.

And so we come to the end of this brief history of Memorial Day. I want to buy a red poppy and pause for a moment, at 3pm on Monday, to think of those gone too soon.


Kids Come to Work and Speak Up

22 04 2010

(We welcome two guest bloggers today: Paloma, age 10, writes about handwashing, and Paris, age 14, writes about Earth Day.)


Handwashing is important because if you don’t wash your hands, then you will probably get sick.

You can also spread your germs and make other people sick. For example, if you were to eat a slice of pie with a friend and you or your friend didn’t wash your hands, then you and your friend could be putting your germs into the other person’s mouth.

Everyone should wash their hands after eating a meal and before and after playing outside but if you don’t have soap and water around you it’s always good to keep hand sanitizer with you!=)

Just as the health of our bodies is important, so is the health of our Earth.

Today I want to talk to you about our Earth’s oceans and why it is important to keep them clean.  It is important to keep our oceans clean because they make up about 70% of our planet.

Throwing plastic into our oceans can harm the animals like seals that are curious and get tangled up in plastic and die from suffocation. Another good reason why we should properly throw away our trash is because sea turtles will eat the plastic sandwich bags and they will get caught in their throats or digestive system.

Plus, it just makes our oceans look dirty and we want a clean looking ocean not one that’s filled with tons of trash. So, please make sure your trash ends up in the trash cans or recycle.


Science vs Superstition

4 08 2009
Thaindian News
Thaindian News

When babies are tossed off the roof of a shrine to ensure good health and prosperity, we as health educators are not doing our jobs.

Many will have heard about this centuries-old ritual that’s followed by hundreds of Hindu and Muslim families.  The child mortality rate is high in India’s rural lands, and these old practices give parents hope that their child will live.

We have to take the time to share the basics of what we know with others, so that everyone in every village in this world has at least the option of using science as the basis for healthcare decisions, rather than superstition.


The Plague

3 08 2009

The plague. Sounds so 14th century, doesn’t it?

Two townsfolk in a rural area of China recently died of pneumonic plague, bringing it right into the 21st century.  Their small town is now sealed off from the world and it’s unknown for how long the quarantine will last.

There are three forms of plague:

  • Bubonic is the most common form and it causes swellings or tumors on the affected person’s neck, armpits or groin.  Infected fleas hopping a ride on rats and then humans are the common source of infection for this disease.
  • Pneumonic is a respiratory infection and can be spread just by breathing in the exhaled air of an infected person.  This is a very infectious and deadly form of plague.
  • Septicemic attacks the blood system but doesn’t spread from person to person.

The WHO isn’t too worried about the small outbreak and this makes sense.  For most people, this is not a potential health risk when stepping out the door each morning, and China’s quick actions will likely stop the spread of infection.

These days, diseases old and new seem to crop up with depressing regularity.  There are several things we can do to protect ourselves, including:

  • keeping our hands clean throughout the day with soap and water or hand sanitizer
  • covering our coughs and sneezes
  • talking to our healthcare provider to see what immunizations are right for our family members
  • using standard precautions in daily living


H1N1: More Questions Than Answers

24 07 2009

Is it wrong to say I’m sick of pandemic (H1N1) 2009, influenza A (H1N1), novel influenza A H1N1, swine flu virus 2009, etc?  Not sick with, just sick of.

Yet, drop a hint of H1N1 into the conversation and I’m all ears (I know, it’s sick).

So many questions, so few answers at this time…

We’re hearing a lot about antigens and adjuvants in relation to the vaccines that are being developed by various manufacturers.

An antigen is the active ingredient in a vaccine that causes our bodies to produce the immune response, or development of antibodies, that helps us fight the virus, should we become infected.

An adjuvant is an additive that might be added to a vaccine to boost the immune system’s response and, we hope, reduce the amount of antigen necessary for the body to recognize and fight a virus.

If we can reduce the amount of antigen necessary for each dose, then we can further stretch our available vaccine supply.

Are vaccine manufacturers going to use an adjuvant, the additive that boosts our immune response to the vaccine (although scientists are saying we’ll still need two doses)?

There’s no definitive answer as of this date, 24 July 2009.

If an adjuvant will be used, is it one that’s been used before and if so, has it been used with a swine flu virus?

Adjuvants have been used before, but not against a swine flu virus.  No one knows at this time if this will make a difference.

For each potential vaccine, how many subjects will be tested in clinical trials before the vaccine is made available to the general public?

We probably won’t know until it’s done.

How much adjuvant should be used?  Will studies be done to determine age-specific responses to an antigen/adjuvant mix?  Will each manufacturer be using a different antigen and adjuvant combination and what pre-licensure studies will be done for each?  Will studies be done on at-risk populations like those who are immune-compromised or obese?

Don’t know.

Since one of the groups most affected by this virus is kids, and therefore the youth in the U.S. will surely be encouraged to get vaccinated, how many kids will be in the pre-licensure trials?

Don’t know.

We sincerely hope someone has the answers to these questions and shares those answers with all of us, although it’s encouraging to realize that vaccine development is not a new science and the world’s governments have plans for dealing with the many issues that arise in a pandemic situation.