Monday, June 23, 2014

CDC survey shows asthma rates dropping

But researchers cautious about celebrating yet

Asthma has been linked to tobacco smoke,
air pollution, pollen and other causes.
A new survey suggests asthma in the U.S. may finally be on the decline. But the results are so surprising that health officials are cautious about claiming a downturn.

"I wouldn't say it's good news — yet," said the study's lead author, Jeannine Schiller of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings come from a large national health survey conducted last year. The drop could just be an unexplained statistical blip, and Schiller said she's waiting for data from this year before proclaiming asthma is on the decline.

For the past few years, about 8.6 percent of Americans have said they have asthma.

But in last year's survey, 7.4 percent said they currently had it. That was the lowest mark in a decade, and represents a decline of more than 3 million people.

The largest declines were seen in black children and women.

There was also a drop in those who said they'd had an asthma attack or episode in the past year. The number fell from 4.4 percent in 2012 to 3.8 percent last year — the lowest mark in more than 15 years.

The new survey involved in-person interviews of more than 47,000 Americans and covered both adults and children.

Asthma can cause bouts of coughing, wheezing, and chest pain. Experts aren't sure what causes it, but asthma attacks can be triggered by things like tobacco smoke, air pollution, pollen, and cockroaches.

Studies have pointed at decrepit housing and climate change as some of the possible reasons for the increase in asthma seen in the past decade.

The disease can be controlled through medication. Some studies have shown a gradual decline in the percentage of asthma patients who said they suffered an attack in the previous year.

Experts say there's been no recent major advance in asthma treatment or improvement in the environment that would account for the latest figures.

"Nationally, I'm not aware of anything that would explain these statistics," said Dr. Karen Freedle, an Emory University specialist in pediatric asthma.

Source: Star Tribune

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Health industry moving away from flame retardants

Medical and dental offices aim for a
healthier indoor environment.
Aiming to make its hospitals and medical offices healthier for people, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, the nonprofit health care consortium, said it will no longer buy furniture treated with flame-retardant chemicals.

The decision applies to all Kaiser facilities across eight states, including Washington and Oregon, and the District of Columbia, serving 9.3 million health-plan members.

That includes eight medical and dental offices in Clark County.

The announcement means Kaiser is the first health care system to make such a change, said Kathy Gerwig, a vice president and environmental stewardship officer for Kaiser, "but we expect many more announcements to be forthcoming."

That's partly because Kaiser believes that its decision to shift the $30 million it now spends annually on furniture toward chemical-free chairs, benches and sofas will trigger a ripple effect in the larger supply chain, prompting others to follow suit.

"We want manufacturers to shift to new products that don't contain harmful chemicals," Gerwig said. "That won't happen without marketplace pressure."

The decision by Kaiser — an Oakland, Calif.-based company that operates more than 38 hospitals and 600 medical offices — also responds to a state law recently passed in California.

That law updated flammability standards for upholstered furniture, allowing manufacturers to meet the standards without using flame-retardant chemicals.

Gerwig said such chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and developmental delays in children. What's more, she said, studies show flame-retardant chemicals "offer no significant benefits in the fire-safety performance of furniture."

Health groups offer support

In announcing the initiative, Kaiser enjoys the support of two groups: Health Care Without Harm and Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Those groups are advancing national and global efforts to improve environmental health and sustainability in the health care industry.

Since health care is 18 percent of the U.S. economy, the sector, through its purchasing power, can "play a critical role" in moving other industries toward removing toxic flame retardants, said Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm.

"We need to remove these flame retardants from our bodies, from homes, our hospitals, from our schools and from commerce," he said. And in the absence of federal reform, Cohen added, "we'll push the marketplace to get health care to lead by example."

The Kaiser initiative focuses on new furniture purchases, so it's unclear when the company would become 100 percent free of furniture treated with flame retardants. In a news release issued Tuesday, Kaiser said "it expects to see safer furnishings in its hospitals within the next one to three years."

Kaiser has previously sought safer alternatives to products used in health care settings, according to the company's news release.

For example, it encouraged manufacturers to produce PVC-free carpets and to develop fabrics that eliminate chemicals such as vinyl, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

Source: The Columbian

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

State of the Air brings good and bad news

The report shows some improvements,
but millions  of people live and work in
areas where the air remains unhealthy.
A new report tries to clear the air on where America stands in its battle with air pollution.

The 2014 State of the Air report out Wednesday from the American Lung Association presents a good news/bad news mix showing improvements in America's air quality compared with previous decades, but more recently an increase in ozone readings since its 2013 report.

Bottom line, the association says, is that 147.6 million people live in areas where air quality remains unhealthy, almost 16 million more than the 2013 report.

The report averaged year-round and 24-hour levels of particle pollution, a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles that come from coal-fired plants and vehicle exhaust, and measured ozone, or smog.

Particle and ozone pollution increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though some improved, all of the most polluted cities have year-round particle levels that violate health standards, according to the report.

Cities that ranked as the cleanest cities in 2010-2012 based on measures of ozone and short- and long-term particle pollution were Bangor, Maine; Bismark, N.D.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; and Salinas, Calif.

In terms of air quality, there have been some wins, such as a court case upholding standards limiting power plant emissions of toxic air pollutants and the Supreme Court's decision on cross-state air pollution. The next step is the Environmental Protection Agency making a decision on a healthier national ozone standard.

As the summer heats up, people can check air quality online at AirNow.

This article has been edited for length.
Source: USA Today

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Firefighters need better cancer coverage: Canada

Ontario announces increase in firefighter cancer coverage

Multiple cancers can result from
firefighting work.
The government of Ontario is expanding the qualifications for workers’ compensation for career firefighters.

Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the province would add six types of cancer to the list of diseases that count as work-related for firefighting professionals.

As of Premier Wynne’s announcement, breast cancer, multiple myeloma and testicular cancer have been newly classified as diseases that can result from firefighting work.

The government also plans to add prostate, lung and skin cancer to the list of illnesses presumed to be work-related by 2017.

“Firefighters face dangerous situations every day, and the risks are both immediate and long-term,” Premier Wynne said in a statement. “While we can never fully remove these dangers, we can, as a government, ensure firefighters have access to the highest quality of care and support.”

The Ontario Premier credited a private member’s bill by Steven Del Duca, the MPP for Vaughan, for spurring on these legislative changes.

The government said in an April 30 press release that the extension of presumptive status for these cancers would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960. It applies to firefighters who work on a full-time, part-time or volunteer basis and to fire investigators.

The intention is to reverse the burden of proof for firefighters who suffer from these diseases and want to claim coverage under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

Previously, the government had added eight types of cancer — brain, bladder, kidney, esophageal, ureter and colorectal cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and specific types of leukemia — to the list of presumably work-related diseases in 2007.

The new additions followed seven years of lobbying by the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA) to expand the number of diseases presumed work-related in the sector.

“We’re certainly extremely pleased for firefighters and for their families, that we were able to achieve that recognition,” said OPFFA president Mark McKinnon. “We’ve been lobbying for it for several years.”

McKinnon explained that “a toxic soup of chemicals” in modern fires had expanded the dangers for people in the profession, regardless of the state-of-the-art protective gear that firefighters wear now.

“In the old days, when everything was built of wood and raw fabrics, you didn’t have the chemicals that you do have in today’s TVs and furniture and everything,” McKinnon explained. “And those chemicals affect firefighters, and not necessarily through inhalation, through smoke, but in through our skin.”

As a result, firefighters are more likely to suffer from these types of cancer than the general population, McKinnon added, citing research indicating that firefighters contract testicular cancer at twice the rate that other people do and approximately five years earlier.

He said that he also wanted to see post-traumatic stress disorder recognized as a presumptive condition for firefighters.

Ontario is not the first Canadian province to start acknowledging links between firefighting and several cancers this year.

In February, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Workplace Health, Safety & Compensation Commission recommended that the provincial government update legislation to classify cancer as a workplace hazard for firefighters.

Source: OHS Canada

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