Martyn Smith Receives Children's Health Advocate Award

Professor Martyn T. Smith was honored at the 5th Annual Child Health Advocate Award Reception on Wednesday October 27th in Washington, DC.

The Children's Environmental Health Network (CEHN) honors leading advocates for children's environmental health, as well as raising awareness on the effects of environmental hazards to children's health, and to raise support for our important programs. The event highlights not only the history and work of CEHN but also children's unique vulnerabilities and susceptibilities when they are exposed to environmental toxicants.

China must go green, and soon

The University held a recent conference titled: “China’s Environment: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?” which brought scientists, environmentalists, journalists, and venture capitalists from both sides together, to come up with solutions. Professor Kirk Smith is quoted.
New California Media - San Francisco, CA (12/17/07):

Managing Household Hazardous Waste

Items like car batteries, irons, and rusty circuit boards are not supposed to end up in a garbage can, but many of them do. It's all household hazardous waste, because chemicals in these items are dangerous to human health and the environment. When people throw these things out, it becomes the problem of the county government. The California Report checks in with Santa Clara County to see how they manage their toxic trash. Adjunct Professor Thomas McKone is interviewed by KQED Radio News intern and EHS student Celia Harris.
During her summer internship, Harris provided research support to health reporters at KQED, contributed to news writing and assisted in production of the program "Health Dialogues." She interviewed McKone for her final project of co-authoring a feature story about the health and economic challenges related to management of household hazardous waste.
"Household Hazardous Waste," The California Report, August 9, 2007

Rural Air Pollution Often Overlooked

When the term “air pollution” is uttered, it brings to mind urban environments, replete with car-packed freeways and belching factories—not small villages and farmed fields.

But rural areas are subject to local sources of pollution as well as secondary effects from urban areas—which means the total global health burden from air pollution falls largely on rural populations, said Kirk Smith, professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Smith recently discussed the issue before the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, which monitors progress toward goals set at the Earth Summit of the U.N. held in 1992. Air pollution was one of four subjects of focus at the Commission’s recent meetings, which also addressed energy, industrial development and climate change.

Addressing the Commission in May, Smith pointed out that in rural areas worldwide, where little monitoring is done for health assessments, there may be a significant understatement of the health impact of outdoor air pollution and the benefit of control. Emissions inventories done as part of climate and acid precipitation programs show clearly that rural areas can contribute substantially to total emissions. In some areas, such as China, total human exposure to outdoor air pollutants in rural areas may be up to 2.5 times the exposure that urban residents face.

“Although it is not possible yet to extrapolate globally,” said Smith, “it is clear that the WHO estimate of 800,000 premature deaths from urban air pollution is a substantial underestimate of the total annual impact of ambient air pollution from both urban and rural environments.”

People living in rural areas face health threats posed by three types of air pollution: that generated in the home by using simple, solid fuels for cooking and heat;“ambient” outdoor pollution from rural
and urban sources; and secondary pollutants, which form when atmospheric conditions trigger chemical reactions in air emissions.

Half the world’s households—mostly in rural areas in developing countries—use solid fuels, such as coal or biomass, for cooking and heating. (Biomass refers to any organic matter, such as wood or agricultural waste.)

The pollution caused by such fuels has well-established health effects: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults and pneumonia in children, which together account for nearly 10% of all lost-life years worldwide, said Smith. In addition, lung cancer is clearly shown to result from coal use and possibly biomass smoke as well. Increasingly, studies are also linking solid fuel use to other cancers, as well as tuberculosis, cataracts, low birth weight and possibly heart disease.

Particularly in developing countries, where rural population density and the number of pollutant sources can exceed that in cities, outdoor air is significantly polluted—from surrounding cities, agricultural burning, and industrial facilities such as power plants and brick kilns.

The third source of pollution affecting rural areas results from the transport of emissions far from their primary emission point—even continents away—and their conversion into health hazards. Some emissions such as hydrocarbons in particular, that are themselves relatively harmless, are converted to hazardous ones by sunlight and interactions with other pollutants.

Many efforts to address air pollution have done little to alleviate its total impact. Installing chimneys to vent smoke from indoor stoves, for example, simply moves the pollution a few feet away, just adding to outdoor pollution. Moving industries from urban to rural areas similarly shifts the pollution from one environment to another. Future efforts to reduce the health eff ects of air pollution, Smith argued, should consider a pollutant’s total impact—in rural as well as urban areas.
Source: COEH Bridges

Hazards of indoor air pollution

In "One Planet," Mark Whitaker addresses the problem of indoor air pollution, now recognized as one of the major health issues in developing countries, in the conclusion of a two-part series. For many people, open wood fires may conjure up cozy, warm and atmospheric images, but for people in developing countries there are no such romantic connotations. Firewood is often the only source of domestic energy and is used on open wood burning fires - filling the home with hazardous smoke. Whittaker reports from the Guatemalan Highlands - the site of the first controlled trial into the effects of indoor air pollution (led by Professor Kirk Smith ) - and looks at links between domestic wood smoke and childhood pneumonia.

Doctoral student Liu wins best poster prize at AIHce

Doctoral student Sa Liu took home the prize for the best session poster at the 2007 American Industrial Hygiene Conference & Expo. Liu's poster was entitled, "Mapping Particulate Matter From Body Weld Department of an Automobile Assembly Plant."
The poster demonstrated that mapping is a valuable tool for exposure assessment, ventilation system evaluation and control strategy design. The study mapped particular matter in an automobile assembly plant. Based on the maps generated, high particle concentration areas were identified, related to ventilation conditions. The workers' union will use the results of the study to carryout personal sampling.

A safer world for kids: Clinton-era order protecting children spawned global effort

Earth Day also marks the tenth anniversary of Executive Order No. 13045, in which President Clinton ordered the government to identify environmental health and safety risks affecting children and tailor policies toward reducing them. Richard Jackson is quoted.
"A safer world for kids: Clinton-era order protecting children spawned global effort," Inside Bay Area, April 22, 2007

Richard Jackson: Defining Places of the Heart

Healthy communities crusader and Adjunct Professor Richard Jackson comes to UC Berkeley and COEH by way of Sacramento, where he recently served as state public health officer in the California Department of Health Services. Jackson said he left his state post in 2005 frustrated by the “dramatic mismatch” between the position’s responsibilities and authority.

“One minute we were dealing with West Nile virus, the next perchlorate in water, then a flu vaccine shortage…and everyone had a stake in the outcome,” said Jackson. “My ability to weigh evidence and argue for what I thought was right in public was nearly always impeded.”

Prior to his stint in Sacramento, Jackson spent ten years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he was director of the National Center for Environmental Health and later senior advisor to the director. He oversaw major increases in the NCEH budget and led efforts for a national chemical bio-monitoring program.

But over time, said Jackson, he became convinced that the built environment— that is, the physical layout and design of towns and cities—was at the core of many environmental health problems, from asthma, to cancer, to climate related disasters.

“Public health walked away from urban planning and design about fifty years ago, thinking everything’s better now that we’re all in cars,” he explained. But Jackson said he was one of the first public health leaders to point out that communities designed for cars were leaving human needs—like safety, security, and clean air and water—in the lurch.

For communities to safeguard health, Jackson argues, they need safe pedestrian passageways and bike lanes, schools and shops within walking distance of homes, places for neighbors to interact, and gathering points for times of crisis. They need to be cohesive, dense, tranquil, beautiful and resilient. They also need to become what Jackson calls “places of the heart”— a concept that’s difficult to define, but that refers to the sense of comfort, security,inspiration and support a well-designed city or town provides.

Jackson argues that architects and city planners can do as much to protect public health as doctors can—an idea that was considered “off the charts” as little as five years ago. But the notion that community design influences human physical and emotional health is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom. As evidence, Jackson points out that he’s the first pediatrician to become an American Institute of Architects board member.

Exploring the built environment’s effects on health is now Jackson’s academic pursuit. He has co-authored a book on the topic, Urban Sprawl and Public Health. He’s brainstorming ideas for county, state and national legislation to promote healthy cities. He’s also teaching a new course, the Built Environment and Public Health, at Berkeley’s School of Public Health and working hard to shape the curriculum into a product he can share with other faculty and schools.

Jackson said he had many reasons for entering academia following his career in government service. He describes his Cal roots as “long and deep.” He is a UCSF-trained physician who worked as an epidemiologist for the California Health Department on Berkeley Way for 15 years. He earned his MPH in epidemiology at the School of Public Health in 1979; his youngest son is currently a Berkeley undergraduate; and his wife and many other family members are also Berkeley alums.

His Berkeley post is giving him time to concentrate on teaching, lecturing and writing across disciplines. “I don’t want to spend time adding another snowball to the Himalayan mountain of knowledge” at the university, said Jackson. “My ambition is to see that knowledge applied to make lasting change.”
Source: COEH Bridges

International Medical Society Honors John Balmes

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine honored EHS professor and COEH Director John Balmes at their annual spring meeting with the Robert A. Kehoe Award of Merit.
Named for Dr. Kehoe, a distinguished pioneer in the field of occupational and environmental medicine, Balmes was selected to receive this award based on his academic achievements in laboratory and epidemiological research, contributions to advisory and editorial committees, and leadership of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Division at San Francisco General Hospital. He was also cited for his commitment to the field of occupational lung diseases and his contributions to research on both acute and chronic effects of inhalation exposures to ambient air pollutants.
Source: COEH Bridges

Richard Jackson to be honored by the Breast Cancer Fund

Dr. Richard Jackson will receive the Breast Cancer Fund's Heroes Tribute award for his work in biomonitoring as a tool for improving public health. The award honors people who have made significant contributions to the reduction of the environmental causes of breast cancer.
Currently a professor of environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Jackson has served in many leadership positions with the California Department of Health Services. He was state Health Officer under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and for nine years was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health in Atlanta. In June 2005, Dr. Jackson received the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award from President Bush for his outstanding leadership and extraordinary achievement in service to the nation.

EHS doctoral students summarize SPH Symposium presentations

An inborn epigenetic defect causing cancer
Dr. David I.K. Martin, research scientist at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute
Synopsis by Rosana Weldon, Ph.D. student

Epigenetics refers to all modifications to genes other than changes in the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetic modifications include addition of molecules, like methyl groups, to the histone tails of the DNA. Cytosine methylation can be used as a marker of the epigenetic silent state (the gene is turned off or not expressed). Genes that are not necessary for a cell’s function are rightfully permanently silenced, but sometimes abnormal silencing, called epimutations, occur. Dr. Martin’s presentation posed the question of whether epimutations may cause cancer to develop. Using the tumor suppressor genes and 2-hit hypothesis as a framework, Dr. Martin argued that epimutations could occur in the first allele and then some other stochastic insult could compromise the second allele which would produce a phenotype that would lead to disregulated growth of the particular cell type and ultimately cancer. His research group looked for evidence of epimutations in 94 patients who had been diagnosed with Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) and 2 were identified. One of the identified patients had three children. Of these three children, one daughter had no epimutations, but had an affected allele. The identified patient’s sperm was also analyzed and it was determined that the epimutation remained in 2% of his sperm. This evidence led to the conclusion that there is the potential for inheritance in a non-mendelian pattern and that it is possible that people are born with epimutations in a small number of somatic cells that predispose them to cancer.

The Politics of Obesity: Public Health Implications
Dr. Marion Nestle, Visiting professor of public policy, public health, and journalism
Synopsis by Rosana Weldon, Ph.D. student

Dr. Nestle describes her research as very low-tech. She observes, describes and makes inferences. In this presentation, she emphasizes how Americans are living in a gorge-yourself environment and how we are surrounded by food, food advertisements and mis-information regarding food. Dr. Nestle discussed specific media messages, cartoons, and advertisements in her presentation. Just last week, the New York Times (NYT) printed an article stating that the low-fat diet has no effect on Coronary Heart Disease. This conclusion was based on the recently published Women’s Health Initiative study results. Dr. Nestle pointed out the flaws of this study including the fact that approximately 500 calories/day were missing from the participating women’s diets. These critical explanations were missing from the NYT article, leaving the general public to believe that the low-fat diet is useless. This type of media negligence, misleading labels and food advertisements confuse the public about what is a healthy diet. One example of misleading product labeling is the presence of the American Heart Association (AHA) logo on a junk food cereal such as Cookie Crisp. This cereal clearly has very little nutritional value, high amounts of sugar and low amounts of fiber, but retains this AHA logo because the parent company, General Mills, pays the AHA for its use. Interestingly, Post cereals are not allowed to use the AHA logo because their parent company is the cigarette giant, Phillip Morris.

Companies are starting to realize that there may soon be a backlash against unhealthful products so they are starting to take measures to make their products genuinely healthier or at least seemingly healthier. PepsiCo has begun placing a “smart spot” on products that are healthier choices than some of their sodas. This spot does not claim that the product, such as Gatorade, is health food, but it is a better option. In recent years Cocoa Puffs have changed from pure junk food to whole grain junk food (with only 1 g fiber) to a product with 75% less sugar (but the same amount of calories and the addition of Splenda). Sponge Bob is now appearing on baby carrots as well as several junk food products. Lastly, McDonalds is now wrapping their products in paper that contains a food label with nutritional values, but you learn this important information only after you have bought the product.

Often our government is more interested in the food industry interests than the public’s health. This is one reason that food companies have been allowed to market directly to children. Marketing directly to children benefits the food industry in three major ways: 1) kids recognize brands, 2) kids know how to pester their parents enough to buy these products, and 3) kids start to believe that they require special foods that are different from adult food. This issue may soon be played out in the courts as there is currently an impending lawsuit against Kelloggs for marketing to children. Our government covers its bases on food issues by providing the food pyramid, which doesn’t actually tell you what to eat and emphasizes activity over food choices.

In closing, Dr. Nestle discussed how the public would like simplicity in their food choices and she mentioned her forthcoming book entitled, “What to Eat”.

China’s Tobacco Control Policy at the Crossroads
Dr. Teh-Wei Hu, Professor Emeritus of Public Health
Synopsis by Lesliam Quirós, Ph.D. student

Dr. Hu’s talk on tobacco control in China raises many important issues. One such issue is the role of government in implementing public health initiatives. As public health professionals we make recommendations which we believe will improve the quality of life of individuals, however, we sometimes fail to consider the challenges in implementing our recommendations such as financial burdens involved, which populations will be negatively affected by public health programs and the role of other parties, such as government, in implementing these initiatives.

In the case of China, implementing tobacco control policy is a challenge since the government controls all tobacco leaf production and pricing. Tobacco is also the main revenue source for many provinces in this country. Thus, a ban on tobacco production may not be a feasible means by which to reduce exposure to ETS and improve health. As public health professionals we must work collectively with other researchers, health organizations, local and state government officials, policy analysts, and economists to arrive at feasible solutions that will improve public health and be acceptable to all of the major party players involved as they will be instrumental in the success or failure of the public health initiatives. Balancing short term economic loss against long term health effects of tobacco is a challenge much like other emerging issues in public health. As public health officials we need to focus not only on the solutions to problems affecting public health but also on the implications of these initiatives on a larger scale.

The Politics of Obesity: Public Health Implications
Marion Nestle, Visiting professor of public policy, public health, and journalism
Synopsis by Lesliam Quirós, Ph.D. student

Dr. Nestle’s talk gives rise to many conflicting opinions on the topic of obesity. In the last few years, obesity in America seems to be a topic of great public health interest. As a graduate student, it is true that fast food chains around the corner are more economically feasible. Could buying habits of fast food chains lead to a more obese me? Well, it is up to me what I do to remain in good physical health. Even if a gym is not affordable, there are parks or malls in which I could walk or jog to get some exercise. However, what about people who are economically disadvantaged and may not have the means to get to a park or a facility to exercise and whose neighborhoods are unsafe to walk in and practice physical activity? Would providing exercise facilities in “bad” neighborhoods aid in physical health? Would better safety in these neighborhoods help? We may be quick in trying to blame others, such as industry, for our physical state, however, I do not believe that the problem is rooted in industry, but in our personal environments.

What makes someone obese and what could lead someone to reach a state that jeopardizes ones health and, to many, is not aesthetically pleasing? There are many factors that may lead to this condition such as social and cultural support (i.e. did we grow up in an environment where physical activity was encouraged? does our present environment and lifestyle facilitate physical activity?), as well as psychosocial factors like stress related with the demands of work and school as well as family life.   Obesity is a complex, multi-factorial chronic disease involving environmental (social and cultural), genetic, physiologic, metabolic, behavioral and psychological components. We should focus on these factors first, before blaming industry for our state of health.

China’s Tobacco Control Policy at the Crossroads
Dr. Teh-Wei Hu, Professor Emeritus of Public Health
Synopsis by Quan Gan, Ph.D. student

During the School of Public Health Research Symposium on Feb. 14 th 2006, Dr. Teh-wei Hu from the Division of Health policy and Management presented the research findings of the Chinese Tobacco Control project, which has been a joint effort between researchers from both U.S. and China. One of the focuses of the project is to evaluate the situation of tobacco farming in China. In a survey conducted between 2002 and 2004 within three provinces where tobacco farming was dominant, they found that tobacco leaf was the least profitable farm product (i.e. associated with the least return/cost rate of only 99%) for farmers compared to other farm products such as fruit, grain and vegetable oil. In other words, very little profit and incentive is expected for farmers to invest in tobacco leaf. On the other hand, both the central and local governments’ revenue rely heavily on tobacco tax. For instance, more than 7% of the central government’s revenue came from tobacco in 2003, only dropped from 11% in 1996. Dr. Hu’s team showed that raising cigarette tax in China would not only be a solution to problem of the nation’s tobacco epidemic, as consumption will go down as a result of increased tax, but also encourage tobacco farmers to invest in other more profitable farm products. While at the same time the revenue for the governments will increase as well.

Other findings Dr. Hu presented at the research symposium included a physicians’ smoking survey, which has found not only significant smoking rates among Chinese physicians (37%), but also that a significant number of physicians smoke in front of their patients. The survey also revealed worrisome knowledge gap of smoking related diseases among Chinese physicians. Hu pointed out the necessity of helping physicians quit and change their behavior in counseling patients as the public thinks of physicians as role models for health behaviors.

One ongoing project Dr. Hu presented was the evaluation of a smoke-free campaign in health care facilities in China. Directors from major Chinese central and local CDCs, medical universities and hospitals signed a smoke-free memorandum in May 2005. An environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) sampling project in undergoing to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign.

In the end of the presentation, Dr. Hu pointed out both the challenges and the opportunities China is facing in curbing the nation’s tobacco epidemic.

Spear Receives China's Friendship Award

Robert C. Spear, professor and chair of the Environmental Health Sciences Division, was honored by the People's Republic of China with the state-level Friendship Award, in recognition of his work to understand, monitor, and control the spread of the water-borne parasitic disease schistosomiasis in rural communities in China.
Inaugurated in 1981, the Friendship Award is the highest recognition given by China to foreign experts for their contributions and dedication to the training of Chinese personnel, as well as China's social development and economic, scientific, technological, educational, and cultural construction. The award letter commends Spear for his hard work and thanks him for promoting cooperation and friendship between the United States and China.
Spear is one of 50 international recipients of the 2005 award, presented by Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi at a ceremony in Beijing on September 29. After the event in Beijing, Spear traveled to Sichuan Province, where his nomination for the national award originated, for a provincial reception.

Katharine Hammond's research on secondhand smoke used to urge parents to quit smoking

Katharine Hammond's research is cited in Smoke Free Society's efforts to urge parents to observe National Parents' Day by quitting smoking.
According to Dr. Hammond's study, non-smokers receive the following equivalents of cigarette smoking:

In the non-smoking section of a restaurant = 1.5 cigarettes
In a pack-a-day smoker's home = three cigarettes
In a smoky bar for two hours = four cigarettes
Riding in a car one hour with a smoker = four cigarettes