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Children's Health Protection

Transcript of Podcast: Interview with Janet McCabe, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation

Listen to the podcast (MP3, 5MB).

E: Did you know that the average adult breathes over 3,000 gallons of air every day? Did you know that children breathe even more air per pound of body weight and are more susceptible to air pollution? Today I am talking with Janet McCabe, principal deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Prior to joining EPA in November 2009, she was Executive Director of Improving Kids' Environment, a children's environmental health advocacy organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ms. McCabe has also held several leadership positions in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Air. Today we're going to be talking about children's environmental health issues in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA.

E: Recently, there has been a lot of information concerning the level of air toxics in schools. What kind of monitoring and prevention methods is EPA doing?

J: Well right now, EPA has a pretty big initiative to monitor air quality around schools so Administrator Jackson pretty immediately initiated a very big toxics monitoring program. We're monitoring air quality at 63 schools in 22 states and at two tribal schools all around the country, working with states and local air agencies and tribal agencies to measure a number of different pollutants and results are starting to come in and we're making sure that those results are good and then we'll be taking a look at the results. So we'll get a sense of what kinds of toxics are around the schools. In terms of what we're doing, one of our bigger programs is called Tools for Schools, which is a voluntary program where EPA provides a lot of resources to participating schools to help them reduce toxics in the schools, whether it's toxic chemicals used in trying to control pests or learning how to use less toxic cleaning materials – all kinds of different things that could exacerbate asthma for children at school or have other adverse health effects.

E: Can you briefly talk about the connection between poor air quality and the increasing rates of asthma among children?

J: Asthma is a disease that's not caused by air pollution but it can be exacerbated by poor air quality either indoors or outdoors. Nobody's quite sure why the rates of asthma are increasing so much but we do know more and more about the kinds of things that can trigger asthma. Outdoor air pollution certainly is something that can bring on or exacerbate an asthma attack. That would be ozone or fine particles, the kinds of pollution that we find in a lot of our cities and suburban areas and even in some rural areas. And then the kinds of chemicals I was mentioning a minute ago, inside the school, can also trigger an asthma attack.

E: What should parents know about protecting their children from damaging UV rays?

J: UV rays can cause problems even on cloudy days, even on days when you wouldn't think you might get a sunburn and what we're finding is that exposure to UV rays when kids are little can show up with skin cancer and other problems when they're older and you don't even know it's happening. So fortunately this is something that we can do something about through education. That is covering up, wearing hats, wearing long sleeves, wearing a good sunscreen that will and putting it on in regular way so that people are really protected. The most important thing is for parents to be teaching their kids and teaching them when they're little because by the time they're teenagers they don’t listen to anything we say, but if they learn at an early age that it’s cool to wear a hat and it's cool to wear sunglasses then they those will be those are habits that they will keep through their lives.

E: What are a few things a parent can do to make indoor air quality for their children better?

J: Not smoke around the house and not let others smoke around the house or in the car. And there's studies showing now that both secondhand smoke and even thirdhand smoke when kids are exposed to people who have cigarette smoke on their clothes, even those exposures can cause problems, so that's number one. Number two is to focus on reducing use of chemicals in the home so there are lots of more non-toxic ways to do pest control including good sanitation, making sure there isn't harborage around for the pests. Also looking for cleaning supplies and other household products that are less toxic.

E: At the EPA, the Office of Air and Radiation works hard on issues affecting our air quality, health and the environment. Next time you take in a big gulp of air, which will probably be quite soon, think about all that the EPA is doing to try and reduce air pollution and make it easier for us all to breathe!

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