Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Give Thanks for Environmental Health

There are so many things to be thankful for; some of them that we may not even notice. Advances in environmental health have made our daily lives much healthier, but these are things we usually don’t notice.

Environmental health is the branch of public health that deals with how our natural and built environments affect human health. Understanding how our environments can make us sick allows us to take action to minimize those risks as a country, a state, as a community and as individuals.

Here are just a few aspects of environmental health to be thankful for.

Access to safe drinking water
The infrastructure that provides us access to water for drinking, cooking, and bathing is designed, monitored, and maintained to keep water as safe as possible. This allows us to go about our daily lives without worrying about getting sick from our drinking water. Thanks to environmental health, we monitor drinking water to make sure it’s safe. If you get your water from a city or a community well, your water is tested regularly. When a test reveals a health concern, you are notified promptly and can avoid the water until it is safe again. If you have your own well, it is up to you to get your water tested. Learn how to get your well water tested from our Drinking Water Program.

Organized waste collection
Before there was organized garbage collection, trash was dumped wherever it was convenient. This led to rodents that can carry diseases, living around homes, businesses, and in the streets. If you’ve ever spent time in a part of the world where organized waste collection is not standard (especially on a hot day), you can really appreciate our waste collection systems. The Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center works together with private companies to provide residents with safe and accessible waste collection, including free hazardous waste collection at HazoHouse.

Food safety regulations
Food safety standards and regulations have made it so that the food we eat is generally safe. When food safety standards are not followed or accidents happen, there are systems in place to recall unsafe foods and to enforce safety standards at restaurants. We also have resources such as www.foodsafety.gov to help us handle food in our own homes safely.

Wastewater treatment
Septic systems, sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities have been environmental health game changers in communities around the world. Human waste contains bacteria that can make us sick with diseases like giardia and hepatitis A. Before these systems were in place, various methods were used to dispose of sewage which made diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever much more common.  Nowadays we don’t have to think much about what to do with it other than remembering to flush. But it doesn’t just disappear off of the earth; thankfully there is a 
system in place to dispose of it safely.

The many innovations in the history of environmental health have made our modern lives safer and healthier. That is something to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Washing Your Hands – It’s really as important as they say!

By Elisa Kaufmann, Education and Outreach Specialist

Since I was a small child, the importance of washing your hands was emphasized. It was part of a routine. After using the restroom and before eating hand washing was almost robotic. There were no questions about it.

If there is one thing that I can say I have learned since I began working for this public health department it is that washing your hands is really as important as they say. Actually I would say that it is even more important than they say! And I will answer the question you are probably thinking, No, I am not germophobic. I finally understand and appreciate how much hand washing does for us.

The fact that washing your hands well can reduce the spread of disease is probably not new to you. Bacteria gets on our hands easily from touching everyday items like hand rails, gas pumps, crosswalk buttons, toys, raw unwashed food, and our pets.

Did you know that frequent and thorough hand washing can also reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals? Toxic chemicals and metals from pollution float around in the air and make their way into dirt and into indoor air and dust. Toxic chemicals from agricultural, industrial, and residential pesticide application also make their way into homes as dust. Think about all of the dusty or dirt-covered items you touch each day. There is a good chance that toxic chemicals wind up on your hands and on many items you touch. We touch our faces, our lips, our water bottles, our phones, our computers, our food... you see where I am going with this? Washing your hands is important.

To be sure you are washing your hands well follow these simple rules.
  • Rub and scrub with soap for 20 seconds (singing the ABCs or Happy Birthday twice).
  • Use warm water.
  • Tip hands downward so water rinses the suds and yucky stuff off of your hands.
  • If possible, turn the faucet off with a paper towel.
  • At home, sanitize faucet handles often.

So when anybody asks me what the one thing is that I've learned since I started working at the health department I say, “Washing your hands is really as important, if not, more important, than they say!”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Free Workshop on Household Hazardous Products on Saturday November 15

Come learn about the the hazards of common household products to people and the environment!

What: Free workshop, "Hazards on the Homefront."
When: Saturday November 15, 2014 2-3 p.m.
Where: LOTT's WET Science Center
   500 Adams Street NE Olympia, WA
Who: Ideal for ages 11 and up.

You'll learn how to read product labels for hazard levels and proper use, storage, and disposal of hazardous products. And learn about safer alternatives to common hazardous products though a fast-paced bingo game. 

Two lucky participants will win a green cleaning kit!

To schedule this presentation or a presentation on another topic for your group of 10-30, call 360-867-2674.

See the rest of the WET Science Center's Fall Activities & Events!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ebola: Get the facts

Over the past few months, the Ebola virus has been a top news story. It’s only natural to be concerned. The best action you can take is to get the facts. Be aware that there is misinformation on the Internet. The most reliable information you can get on the Ebola situation nationally and locally will be from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington State Department of Health, and your local health department.

What you need to know:

  • Those most at risk of getting Ebola are healthcare workers and family members caring for someone who is sick with Ebola; the risk to the general public is very low. 
  • There are no confirmed cases in Washington State. 
  • Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids (like blood, vomit, urine, feces, semen, sweat, saliva) of someone who is sick with the disease. 
  • You do not get Ebola from casual contact with others, air, water or food that is commercially available in the U.S. 
  • A person with Ebola is only contagious when they are showing symptoms.

More information about Ebola:

Friday, October 31, 2014

5 Tips to Prevent Mold

In the rainy Pacific Northwest, buildings are prone to mold. Mold needs two things to grow – moisture and a good spot to grow on. Unfortunately, mold loves to grow on many common building materials and items in our homes. Since the conditions must be right for mold to grow, there are steps we can take to prevent those conditions.

1. Check gutters, downspouts, and drains.  Put on your rain gear and go outside during the next rain downpour.  Channel your inner preschooler and stomp in a puddle or two!  Okay, now your grown-up task is to check the gutters, downspouts, and drains to get a good idea of where the rain water is flowing.  The best answer is away from your building.

Clean, clear, reattach, or replace gutters and downspouts that aren’t working well. Clear any blocked drains. Please take precautions if you go up a ladder.  If you are renting, please check with your landlord or property manager.  While most property managers want to hear about water issues, they may not want their tenants up on a ladder or taking steps to fix a problem.

2. Observe your landscaping.  Do you need to make changes to the slope or drainage around the building so that water flows away and not toward the structure?  Consider contacting the Stormwater Stewards or installing a rain garden.  Depending where you live, you might even qualify for a rebate.  Prune tree branches or other plants away from the walls. This prevents water from being held against the siding, and allows air movement to help dry off the walls.  

Ready to come back indoors?  Even when we keep the rain outside, there is still moisture inside our homes from breathing, cooking, and bathing.  Here are some ways to keep mold out of your home. 

3. Fix leaks properly and quickly. If you have a leak, take care of it right away.  Wet items should be dried within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.

4. Increase ventilation. 

  • Give moisture a way out. Use the bathroom fan or open a window for 30 minutes after bathing.  If your home tends to have high humidity, keep that fan on as much as possible. Use your kitchen fan when cooking. Make sure your fans are vented to the outside and not into the attic.
  • Once a day, walk through your home opening a window in each room. Then go back around and close them.  Because warm air holds more moisture than cold air, that rainy 40˚ air can actually be drier than the heated air inside your home.  If you do this quickly, you don’t lose much heat and you still bring in fresh air, which can help lower humidity levels indoors.
  • Allow for air flow.  Keep furniture an inch or two away from the walls.  Open the curtains or blinds in each room daily.  Open closet doors and doors between rooms when possible.  Allow room for any moisture that has condensed on a surface to be dried out or carried away in the air.

5. Heat each room in your home to at least 60˚.  Moisture in the air will condense onto walls, furniture, or other surfaces as it cools, and may grow mold.  Closed off rooms and cold rooms tend to be where mold grows. 

Would you like some help with mold prevention and other healthy home topics? Our Healthy Homes Program provides free, confidential visits to help reduce exposure to toxics, mold, and asthma triggers and other housing related health risks.

For more information about mold visit: www.epa.gov/mold/index.html

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Keep out unwanted visitors this winter

It’s that time of year where those pesky, unwanted visitors like to make themselves comfortable in your home. No, not the friends or family members who tend to wear out their welcome. Rodents. Now that it is getting cold, rodents will start to look for warmth. There is a lot we can do to prevent a rodent problem in our homes.

Screen them out.
  • Regularly check your home for cracks or openings larger than ¼ inch. Anything bigger than that, a mouse can get through. Check around foundation, in attics, around windows, and where pipes or wires enter the building. Repair small cracks and holes with wire mesh and spray foam insulation.
  • Look underneath sinks and around plumbing. Seal holes with items available at local hardware stores such as metal pipe collars and metal mesh that has less  than ¼ inch openings.
  • Rodents can also get in from underneath doors, so make sure spaces under doors are less than ¼ inch as well.
Don’t invite them to dinner.
  • Keep food stored away in glass, metal tins, or hard plastic. They can chew through cardboard, plastic bags and cloth. Put food away every night and wipe up the counters. This is especially important if you know you have a mouse or two as current roommates.
  • Pet food can attract rodents. Bring any outdoor pet food dishes in and put the food away at night. Store it in glass, metal tins, or hard plastic.
  • Don’t feed the birds. If you feed the birds, you will likely be feeding some rodents too.
It’s your home, not their habitat.
  • Keep bushes around the home trimmed up and away from the sides of the building. If there are places to hide right next to your home, rodents can make themselves comfortable in them. From their hiding spots, they can look for ways to invite themselves inside.
  • It may be convenient to have firewood stacked up right outside the door, but it is also a convenient little home for rodents. Find another covered area to store firewood.
If you see rodents signs (droppings, holes), take action.
  • The longer rodents are allowed to settle into your home or shed, the more damage they will do and the more time and money it will take to clear them back out.

For more information on rodents, check out the US Centers for Disease Control site at: http://www.cdc.gov/rodents/

Friday, October 17, 2014

Common Sense Gardening: 15 yard and garden tasks to do before winter

As rain and wind become more frequent, flowers start to droop and the colorful leaves fall to the ground, reality sets in. We can’t fight it any longer. Fall is really here and winter is right around the corner. It’s time to get those final chores completed outside.

Finish up planting
1. Plant over-wintering cover crops. This should be done by mid-October and will provide nutrients and organic matter for a healthy garden in the spring. Vetch and clover provide nitrogen, which can be used by next season’s crops. Common cover crops include common vetch, crimson clover, winter wheat, barley, rye, and spelt.

2. Plant onions and fava beans in October for a spring harvest. Plant garlic by mid-November for an early summer harvest.

3. Fill bare garden bed spaces with ground-covers and shrubs. This will help maintain healthy soil, help rain soak into the ground and reduce muddy areas in your yard.

4. Plant flower bulbs to enjoy the colorful first signs of spring. Daffodils, tulips, anemones, crocus species, trilliums, and ornamental onions can be planted before December.

5. Transplant trees and shrubs during fall and winter. Transplanting while dormant reduces shock and damage. This video from Native Plant Salvage demonstrates how to Plant it Right.

Yard maintenance
6. Mulch all garden beds that are not cover-cropped or planted with winter vegetables. Mulch three to five inches thick to protect roots from being damaged by winter frosts and prevent nutrient leaching to protect soil health. Fallen leaves, straw or grass clippings make great mulch. Be sure to keep mulch away from the trunks of trees and shrubs.

7. Keep weeding when weeds are present. Less weeding is needed when beds are mulched and planted.

8. Test your soil. Thurston Conservation District provides soil testing services and can help you understand the results to make the best choices for adding needed nutrients.

9. Turn off irrigation systems. Drain hoses before storing.

10. Overseed your lawn. Fall is also a good time to fertilize your lawn with slow-release fertilizer if you did not fertilize in the spring. Avoid fertilizers with bug and weed killers included. Raking compost over your lawn is a great way to improve the soil.

11. Clean up the fallen fruit from under trees. Salvage what you can and compost the rest.

12. Prune roses down to three feet. This will help prevent winter damage.

13. Clean yard and garden tools well before you put them away. This could also be a great opportunity to organize your tools.

14. Take leftover, unwanted hazardous materials such as motor oil, gasoline, bug and weed killers to HazoHouse in Hawks Prairie for free, safe disposal.

15. Bring tender and semi-tender plants indoors.

Wow. That’s a lot to do! Prioritize your tasks and take it one step at a time. Fall yard preparation means more time for reading books and sipping hot chocolate indoors this winter. Before you know it, it’ll be springtime!