THURSDAY NIGHT IS HEALTH CARE CHANGE NIGHT, a weekly Health Care Series (cross-posted at ePluribus Media)
Proper environmental management is the key to avoiding the quarter of all preventable illnesses which are directly caused by environmental factors. The environment influences our health in many ways — through exposures to physical, chemical and biological risk factors, and through related changes in our behaviour in response to those factors.
Thirteen million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes. Preventing environmental risk could save as many as four million lives a year, in children alone, mostly in developing countries.
Public health policy effects our health. Good policy promotes good health. Poor policy results in poor health. Listening to the MSM these days, one would think that government involvement in health care is the moral equivalent of Chernobyl.
In fact, the opposite is true.
I decided to look at the impacts of specific government interventions in the US on children's health to determine whether "socialized policies" are a good thing. I chose children because they are the most sensitive, for a variety of reasons, to environmental influences. According to WHO
Over 40% of the global burden of disease attributed to environmental factors falls on children below five years of age, who account for only about 10% of the world's population.
I read through Children’s Health and the Environment: A First Report on Available Indicators and Measures (Country Report: United States) prepared by the EPA. Let's get two things out of the way immediately: (1) I am a geek; and (2) it was a worthwhile exercise even if you are suspicious of recent EPA reports.
This document was published in 2005, the dark night of the Bush years. Nevertheless, the EPA found that government interference and regulation consistently resulted in improved health for America's children.
Let's look at government interference in children's consumption of lead.
Lead is a serious environmental health hazard for young children. A child’s brain and nervous system are vulnerable to adverse impacts from lead because they go through a long developmental process beginning shortly after conception and continuing through adolescence. Studies have found that lead can damage children’s developing brain and nervous system. Lead contributes to learning problems such as reduced intelligence and cognitive development. Childhood exposure to lead contributes to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and hyperactivity and distractibility; increases the likelihood of dropping out of high school, having a reading disability, lower vocabulary, and lower class standing in high school;and increases the risk for antisocial and delinquent behavior. A blood lead level of 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) or greater is considered elevated, but there is no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood. Adverse health effects can occur at lower concentrations.
In 1990, about 2 percent of children lived in counties that exceeded the three-month standard for airborne lead. In 2003, only one county, with less than 0.1% of children, had airborne lead measurements that exceeded the standard.
The median concentration of lead in the blood of children 5 years old and under dropped from 15 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) in 1976-1980 to 1.7 μg/dL in 2001–2002, a decline of 89 percent.
The concentration of lead in blood at the 90th percentile in children 5 years old and under dropped from 25 μg/dL in 1976-1980 to 4.2 μg/dL in 2001–2002. This means that 10 percent of children had blood lead levels above 4.2 μg/dL and 90 percent had blood lead levels below 4.2 μg/dL.
So what happened?
Despite warnings of creeping communisim, the US Government phased lead out of gasoline between 1973 and 1995. The number of homes with lead-based paint was reduced from 64 million in 1990 to 38 million in 2000, a reduction of 41%. EPA regulations reduced lead in drinking water, banned it from paint and heavily restricted its use in solder, faucets, pipes and plumbing. EPA regs have virtually eliminated lead content in food and drink containers, ceramics, toys, tasty mini-blinds and playground equipment.
Let's look at another example: indoor tobacco smoke.
Children who are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, also known as secondhand smoke, are at increased risk for a number of adverse health effects, including lower respiratory tract infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, fluid in the middle ear, asthma symptoms, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke also may be a risk factor contributing to the development of new cases of asthma. Young children appear to be more susceptible to the effects of environmental tobacco smoke than older children are.
The percentage of children ages 6 and under who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke in the home decreased from 27 percent in 1994 to 11 percent in 2003. The percentage of children ages 4-11 who tested positively for cotinine (a breakdown product of nicotine) in their blood, also decreased between 1988–94 and 1999–2000. Overall, 64 percent of children ages 4 to 11 had cotinine in their blood in 1999–2000, down from 88 percent in 1988–94.
So what happened? Was the decrease in exposure to secondhand smoke due to the untimely demise of Puff the Magic Dragon in the autumn mists of Honalee?
Not unless Puff was a target of the federal government's Healthy People 2010 initiative (Objective 27-9: to reduce the proportion of children who are regularly exposed to tobacco smoke at home) or the EPA’s Smoke-Free Homes initiative. The mega-lawsuits waged by the Clinton administration against the tobacco industry resulted in national initiatives to ban smoking in public buildings and restaurants, to limit cigarette advertising and to provide assistance to ordinary Americans kicking the tobacco habit.
Do you remember the astroturf smokers' rights organizations and their various campaigns to preserve human dignity and the sanctity of the individual?
I could go on and on.
Yet, despite the many dire warnings promulgated by the gas and oil conglomerates and the tobacco industry, California did not fall into the ocean, our economy didn't crumble and our American way of life did not end.
We did, however, narrowly escape producing a generation of asthmatic sociopaths.
| If you are interested in environmental issues, please join DK GreenRoots, a new environmental advocacy group created by Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily. DK GreenRoots comprises bloggers at Daily Kos and eco-advocates from other sites. We focus on a broad range of issues and are always open to new ones.
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Some projects may involve the creation of eco working groups that can be used for a variety of actions, including implementing political action or drafting proposed legislation. We are in exciting times now because for the first time in decades, significant environmental legislation will be passed by Congress. It is far easier to achieve real change if our proposal is on the table rather than fighting rearguard actions.
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