Friday, July 25, 2014

Why are children more vulnerable to chemical exposures?



Kids move fast. They can get into things and make a mess in no time at all. So it’s not hard to imagine that children are more vulnerable to accidents than adults. But did you know that children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures?

Little bodies. Because they are small, anything that children eat, drink, or breath is more concentrated in their bodies than it is for adults.

Growing bodies. Children are at greater risk for harm because their bodies are still growing and developing. Some toxic chemicals have similar properties to nutrients that bodies need – so a growing body can mistake a toxin for a nutrient and happily absorb it. For example, lead has properties similar to calcium, so growing bones tend to absorb lead.

Location, location, location. Kids are closer to the ground than adults are. They crawl and play on the ground where heavy metals, dust, dirt, and all sorts of yucky stuff settle. Find out what is in dust here.

Busy little hands and little mouths. Children tend to put hands and objects in their mouths, they touch more stuff, and they don’t always know what something is before licking it or putting it in their mouths. This can lead to unnecessary exposure and accidental poisoning.

  
What can you do to reduce a child’s exposure? 

Wash hands often. Washing hands is not only effective to reduce germs; it reduces toxic chemicals that wind up on our hands. Heavy metals, pesticides, flame retardants, and other toxics are found in dust and dirt. Often times, chemicals can be all over something we touch without ever knowing it. Washing hands well (rubbing for 30 seconds with soap and warm water) each time you come inside, before nap time – especially for thumb suckers, after using the restroom, and before eating or handling food is one of the easiest ways to reduce exposure. 

Choose least toxic products. Household cleaning products, yard products, or even personal care products (like shampoo and lotion) can contain toxic chemicals. Choose green cleaning methods or purchase cleaning products that do not say Danger or Poison on the label.  Use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help you make safer choices for cleaning products. The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an easy-to-use tool to research safer personal care products. The Environmental Working Group organizes many consumer guides that can be helpful in making purchasing decisions for you and your family. To find the least toxic lawn and garden products use Grow Smart, Grow Safe, available online or download the free app.
 
Store and use products safely.  Keep hazardous products locked up and out of reach of children.  When using hazardous products, keep track of where the kids are.  The poison control center reports more children are getting poisoned when products are in use. For some prevention tips, see our recent blog post, 8 Tips to Prevent Accidental Poisoning in Children. 

Manage dust. Vacuum well each week (or more if you have a lot of dust) and use a water-dampened cloth to dust hard surfaces. Microfiber cloths work great. 

Clean toys regularly. Toys get dusty and dirty. Toys go in hands and mouths. 

Provide nutritious foods. When growing children have enough nutrition, they are less likely to absorb some toxic materials. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for food planning and tracking tools.
  
We can’t always control all of the chemicals around us. But, we absolutely can reduce our chemical exposure by taking some of the simple steps listed above.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Swimming Advisory at Burfoot Park Beach


Thurston County health officials posted swimming advisory signs at the beach at Burfoot Park as a precaution. Recent testing showed elevated levels of bacteria in the water.    

The beach is not closed, but health officials are recommending that people and pets stay out of the water.

“We want park visitors to be aware of the situation and use their best judgment about whether they go in the water or stay dry,” said Art Starry, Director of the county’s Environmental Health Division. “The health risk at Burfoot Beach is relatively low for most people, but there is a slightly higher risk of illness for young children and people with compromised immune systems, so we're reaching out to make sure people can make informed decisions.”

Health officials also recommend that nearby beachfront property owners avoid contact with the water until tests show that bacteria levels have dropped.

All other facilities and areas at Burfoot Park are unaffected and are open to the public, including the trails, picnic areas and playground.   

For more information on protecting yourself, your family and your pets from common swimming and water-borne illnesses, visit Thurston County Environmental Health's website on Swimming Illnesses & Hazards.

For more information about wastewater treatment and how the Washington State Department of Ecology protects and monitors Washington’s waterways, click here.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

8 Tips to Prevent Accidental Poisoning in Children



The Washington Poison Center reported 54,390 instances of human poisoning in 2013. About 51% of these were children under the age of six. The number one reason the Poison Center was called in 2013 was for accidental exposure. In Thurston County, over 100 hospitalizations happen every year from accidental poisonings.

It is true that accidents happen. But what can we do to prevent them? Here are some tips!


1) Even products that are not considered “hazardous” or “toxic” can be poisonous if ingested. Cosmetics and personal care products (shampoo, lotion, soap, etc) are the number one source of exposures for children under age six. 

2) Talk to your kids about the dangers of eating, drinking things that are not food or not food for kids. And about the danger of touching items that can hurt them. The Poison Center suggests teaching small children to ask before eating, drinking, or touching things.

3) Keep toxic or potentially toxic items locked and out of reach. Remember that this should include household cleaners, auto products, yard and garden products, as well as cosmetics and personal care products. Kids are great climbers. Make sure your bathroom is kid-safe by keeping items put away, completely out of child’s reach, including their ability to climb up on the counter. A locking container or cupboard can prevent poisoning.

 
4) Children learn by imitation. Try not to take medication in front of them. Avoid bringing unnecessary poisons into the home. Read labels, directions, and check ingredients with your kids. Refrain from calling medication by any other name, even if it is a joke (such as “happy pills”).

5) Pay special attention to children when you use hazardous products. Many poisonings happen while the product is in use. Think about where you set a product down as you clean. Keep the product close to you and in your line of sight at all times while in use. If you step away to answer the phone or door, take the product with you.
 
6) Avoid bringing hazardous products in your home. Use green cleaning methods, natural yard care, and use the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find less toxic personal care products. If you need to use a hazardous product, only purchase the amount you need for the specific task. More stored hazards provide more opportunities for danger.

7) Dispose of hazardous products and medications safely. Take any unwanted and unused hazardous materials and medications to HazoHouse at the Thurston County Waste & Recovery Center. You can also take unwanted medication to a medicine return drop box,  see Take Back Your Meds  for locations.

8) Have the toll-free Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) readily available. Program it into your home and cell phones. You should also post it near your phone or on your refrigerator for the babysitter. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’s nice to have just in case.

Find more useful tips at www.safekids.org/poisonsafety.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Get to know our Health Officer, Dr. Rachel Wood



Dr. Rachel Wood with her husband

Last December, Thurston County got a new Health Officer - Dr. Rachel Wood. This new role is familiar for Dr. Wood since in the past she would step in when our former Health Officer, Dr. Yu, was unavailable. She also continues to serve as Lewis County‘s Health Officer; a position she’s held since 2007.

It is a Washington State law for counties or districts to have a local Health Officer. The Health Officer is required to be a legally qualified physician and they serve their district by enforcing the state-wide public health statutes and other local regulations and ordinances. 

The position comes with specific powers and duties, that include:
  • Control and prevent the spread of infectious disease
  • Examine local public water and waste water systems for health concerns
  • Promote public health to the community. 
 
Dr. Wood was born and raised in New Mexico. She went to college in Colorado; got her Master’s in Public Health in Texas, and returned to Colorado for medical school, where she met her husband. Dr. Wood has a diverse background in practicing medicine and public health. She has worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, practiced clinical medicine as a family practitioner, and when she moved to Olympia served for 12 years as the physician at the Student Health Center at The Evergreen State College. 
 
When her children were in high school, Dr. Wood turned her focus back to public health, becoming Lewis County’s Health Officer. One of the reasons she enjoys working in public health is that people work together with shared goals. When she learned that Dr. Yu would be retiring, she became interested in adding the role of Thurston County Health Officer to her official duties. Dr. Wood feels happier in her work than she’s ever been. She says her job is fun because it is so interesting and there is always more to learn. 
 
“Many factors contribute to a person’s health,” Dr. Wood says. “Environmental Health is an extremely important pillar that supports overall health and wellness. If your living and working environments are not healthy or safe, it makes it difficult to be healthy.” 
 
When the community faces a natural disaster or an epidemic, Dr. Wood works with county employees to ensure that infectious diseases and exposure to hazardous materials are under control and to take action as needed to protect the health of Thurston County residents. In times of disaster and throughout daily work, her position requires working with county employees, other agencies and organizations, and the public.  Working with others to support community health is another reason Dr. Wood loves her work and why she supports the Thurston Thrives! initiative. 
 
“I look forward to making new partnerships, maintaining old ones, and making ties with people who care about our community’s overall health and well-being. That is what Thurston Thrives! is about – working together as a community, from different sectors, and aligning our efforts to improve health.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

10 Tips for Sunscreen Safety



By Elisa Kaufmann, Education and Outreach Specialist

Sunscreen is a must-have item for many of us. In my work, I teach kids and adults about chemical ingredients in personal care products (shampoo, lotion, soap, cosmetics, etc) and I often get asked about sunscreen. What kinds of chemicals are in sunscreen? How do I know if a sunscreen is safe or effective? What is SPF?  In response, here are some tips for sunscreen safety.


1) Read the ingredients. Look for the active ingredients: zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens do not penetrate the skin as easily as others and they offer stable and lasting UV protection.

The active ingredient to avoid is a chemical called, oxybenzone. This chemical can trigger allergic reactions on sensitive skin. It soaks through the skin and can reach the bloodstream. The chemical has been linked to disruption of the body’s hormone system and is found in samples of urine and breast milk.

2) Avoid spray sunscreens. They may be easier to apply on little wiggle worms, but spray sunscreens do not provide adequate protection from the sun. Not only do they make it easier to miss spots, but the sprayed mist is easily inhaled by everyone around. Aerosol sprays are harmful to the lungs, especially to those with asthma and other lung diseases, small children, and the elderly. When applying spray sunscreens outside, much of the light spray gets blown in the wind and misses the skin. Lotion sunscreens offer much better protection.


3) Understand SPFs. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Unfortunately, the name is misleading. SPF measures how well the sunscreen blocks UVB rays – the kind of sun ray that causes burns. It does not measure UVA rays, which can cause skin damage and are linked to other health conditions. Look for a product with SPF between 20 and 45 and reapply often.

4) Re-apply often. Sunscreen wears off throughout the day and washes off with sweat and water. For these reasons, moisturizers with SPF are not recommended in place of sunscreen. Moisturizers are intended to be used once a day – sunscreen must be re-applied every two hours or so while in the sun and after swimming or heavy sweating.

5) Don’t forget your scalp. Use a cotton swab to apply sunscreen on the scalp that shows where hair is parted. Dab along the part with the cotton swab and then rub it in with your finger.

6) Wear a hat. Growing up, my mom always tried to get me to wear hats in the sun. I should've listened! I always try to wear one now, especially when I am gardening. Hats add protection to the scalp, ears, face, and sometimes the neck. If you have thinning hair or bald spots, a hat is your best friend on a sunny day.

7) Choose the shade. A great way to limit sun exposure is to settle down in the shade. For example, when picnicking, set up your spot in the shade. Then your group can go back and forth between sun and shade.

8) Skip sunscreens combined with bug repellent. Bug repellents are not usually needed as often, at the same time or in the same places as sunscreen. Most bug repellents should not be applied to the face – but sunscreen should. Bug repellent is usually needed most at dusk.

9) Tanning oils are not sunscreen. If they have sunscreen ingredients, it is not enough to offer adequate protection.

10) Check out the 2014 Guide to Sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen. You can also search sunscreens on the website using their “Find your sunscreen” database search.



 Remember, skin damage can occur even if there is no evidence of sun burn. Choose your sunscreen wisely, stay out of the direct sun when possible, drink enough water, and most of all - have fun this summer!