environmental health

RECENT POSTS

California Gives Hair-Straightening Product “Caution” Label

Patricia Davis straightens a clients hair at her salon in Oakland.

Patricia Davis straightens a client's hair at her salon in Oakland. (Photo: Shuka Kalantari)

Oakland salon owner Patricia Davis leans over her client to get a better angle on the flat iron that’s clamped to her hair. Steam rises up from the woman’s hair and a spinning fan above spreads the steam throughout the room and out the windows. Sometimes, formaldehyde gas, a known carcinogen, is in that steam. And if that product is called “Brazilian Blowout,” then formaldehyde is definitely in there … despite the fact that it says “formaldehyde-free.”

In a recent settlement agreement with the California Attorney General, GIB, the company that makes the popular Brazilian Blowout hair straightening treatment, will drop the claim that they’re formaldehyde-free. They also have to add a caution label to their product.

“California laws protect consumers and workers and give them fair notice about the health risks associated with the products they use,” said Attorney General Harris. “This settlement requires the company to disclose any hazard so that Californians can make more informed decisions.”

But salon owner Davis says the controversy is overblown. “I think it’s much ado about nothing,” she says as she continues flat-ironing her client’s hair.

Continue reading

If We Build It, Will People Be More Healthy?

(Image: from "Designing Health Communities")

(Image: from "Designing Health Communities")

It’s called the “built environment” and if you’re a public health whiz, you know exactly what that means. If you don’t, Dr. Richard Jackson, Chair of UCLA’s Environmental Health Sciences Department believes it’s critical you do.

“By the built environment,” he explains, “we mean everything around us that was changed by human activity, homes, building, streets that we’re surrounded by.” In other words, it’s where we live our lives, work, or go to school. When the car came along, the built environment seemed to build up on its own without any thought to health impacts. “We’ve made it hard to walk,” he says. “We’ve engineered physical activity out of our daily lives.” Continue reading

And The Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer Are…?

Suspicious mass on mammogram. (KristieWells: Flickr)

Suspicious mass on mammogram. (KristieWells: Flickr)

Seventy percent of women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors. For years, advocates and activists have trumpeted the need for more research into possible environmental causes of the disease. Today, the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a much anticipated 360 page study, Breast Cancer and the Environment. But it unfortunately was unable to give women or their doctors any new environmental clues.

As the New York Times reports, most of what the IOM did recommend is already known and might not have much effect anyway.

The most consistent data suggest that women can reduce their risk by avoiding unnecessary medical radiation, forgoing hormone treatments for menopause that combine estrogen and progestin, limiting alcohol intake and minimizing weight gain, the report found. (Controlling weight appears helpful only in preventing postmenopausal breast cancers, not those in younger women.) Overuse of CT scans, which deliver a relatively high dose of radiation, was a particular concern, but the report stated that women should not be deterred from having routine mammograms, which use a much smaller dose. …

Continue reading

Organic Products Must Be … Well … Organic

Manufacturers of these products will have to change their formulation or remove word "organic" from label. (Photo: Center for Environmental Health)

Manufacturers of these products will have to change their formulation or remove word "organic" from label. (Photo: Center for Environmental Health)

In a first-ever test of California’s law regarding organic personal care products (think hair and skincare products, even toothpaste), the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced today that it has reached settlement with 11 companies, ones that make national-brand products labelled organic, but were not organic under California law. The 2003 California Organic Products Act (COPA) requires products labelled “organic” to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Earlier this year, CEH spent hours shopping at national retailers, including Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and others, selecting products labelled “organic.” In June, the CEH filed lawsuits against more than two dozen manufacturers, saying specific products did not meet the standard and were in violation of state law.

In the agreements announced today, 11 companies have agreed to comply with COPA, either by increasing the amount of organic ingredients or by removing the word “organic” from their label. The agreement further requires companies to make their ingredient records available to CEH for inspection.

Continue reading

KQED Story Prompts Improved Health Alerts?

Children's park located under a freeway in Fresno.  (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Children's park located under a freeway in Fresno. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Yesterday morning, KQED brought you Sasha Khokha’s report questioning how well the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is protecting public health on poor air quality days.

About 10 hours later, the Valley Air District issued an air quality alert using significantly stronger language than it had used previously.

Coincidence?

A little background: Khokha reported that the Valley Air District’s public service announcements had focused on what people could do to reduce emissions, but had not alerted the public how to protect their health on poor air quality days.

For example, the District issued a PSA on September 29, 2011, a day when the air quality was in the “unhealthy for all” category. Among other things, the District recommended people walk or bicycle instead of drive their cars. Now, this is great for reducing emissions, but anyone who followed this advice could have harmed their lungs. Not exactly a great public health message.

Continue reading

Asthmatic Kids at Risk in San Joaquin Valley

This post originally appeared in KQED’s NewsFix on November 1, 2011.

Water polo tournament at Fresno's Sunnyside High goes on, despite air quality so poor that school districts are supposed to cancel outdoor activities. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Water polo tournament at Fresno's Sunnyside High goes on, despite air quality so poor that school districts are supposed to cancel outdoor activities. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)

Today, KQED’s Sasha Khokha outlines how the lack of effective air monitoring policy in the San Joaquin Valley could be harming the people who live there. As she reports, a recent study from UCSF Fresno and CSU Fresno [PDF] finds a direct link between air pollution and asthma-related ER visits. The study found what researchers call a “linear association” between certain components of air pollution and asthma ER visits. In other words, as air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.

The San Joaquin Valley has some of the dirtiest air in the country and high rates of childhood asthma.

As air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.
 The culprits are two components of air pollution: ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Ground-level ozone can have corrosive effects on the lungs, decreasing lung function. Particulate matter are tiny particles, like soot.  The simple act of breathing carries these particles deep into the lungs where they stick and can cause breathing and heart problems.

Continue reading

Clearing the Air on Climate and Smog

This post originally appeared on KQED’s Climate Watch blog on October 21, 2011.

Tourists snap pictures of a murky sunset in San Diego.  (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images)

Tourists snap pictures of a murky sunset in San Diego. (Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images)

A major study released recently in Fresno details the direct link between higher levels of air pollution and asthma-related ER and hospital admissions. So, what’s that got to do with climate change? Plenty.

“There’s a division in the public’s mind between global warming and health effects of pollution,” says Dimitri Stanich of the California Air Resources Board.

In reality, there’s significant overlap. Some components of air pollution shown to have harmful warming effects on the planet are also harming people, especially children, right now.

Let’s start with ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone is different from the ozone layer, which lies about 15 miles above the earth (not exactly ground level). The ozone layer shields us from most of the sun’s harmful rays. Ozone is good in the atmosphere but bad, in many ways, at or near ground level.

Some components of air pollution shown to have harmful warming effects on the planet are also harming people right now.
Ground-level ozone is not part of air pollution itself. Instead, it is formed by a complex chemical reaction starting with the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) component of air pollution. That chemical reaction is especially strong when the air is calm and the sun is shining (California’s Central Valley in the summer, anyone?). This stuff is terrible for your lungs.

Continue reading