October 2007

Heart disease
is the #1
killer of
women over
age 65.7
                       Women  and
                       Environmental  Health
                       Information for Older Adults and
                       Their Caregivers
      The environment affects
      human health in
      many ways. A healthy
      environment has
positive effects; a polluted
environment harms health.
Some of the negative effects
have a particular impact on
women's health, especially
among those over 50.
Pollutants are health factors in
commonly known conditions
such as lung disease, as well
as in other chronic illnesses.
Chronic health conditions such
as high blood pressure, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD), and asthma are more
common in women over 50
compared to men in the same
age group.2
This fact sheet offers information
both on steps that you can
take to reduce exposure to
environmental pollutants and
conditions to be aware of as
you age, especially:
• Pollutants in the air you
• Cleaning agents and
  pesticides you use around
  the home, and
• Childhood exposure to
  lead and resulting health
  problems after menopause.3

Air Pollution

Air pollution is the
contamination of air with
harmful substances. Examples
of air pollutants include, but are
not limited to:
• Fine particles, such as vehicle
  exhaust and soot;
• Gases, including ozone and
  carbon monoxide;
• Fumes released by burning
  coal, oil, or kerosene and
  from household cleaning
  products and paints; and
• Smoke from tobacco, open
  burning, and wood-burning
Fine particles and ozone are
recognized as the most harmful
air pollutants.
Staying indoors does not
necessarily provide protection
  Call the National Poison Control Center if you or
someone shows symptoms of having been poisoned

against air pollution. Fine particles can enter
your home or workspace through open
windows, doors, or air conditioners. If adequate
ventilation does not exist, tobacco smoke or
fumes from cleaning products can become
concentrated indoors and quickly degrade air

Health Effects of Air Pollution
• If you have cardiovascular disease, air
   pollution can cause sudden variations or an
   increase in your heart rate.4 Air pollution may
   worsen coronary atherosclerosis or chronic
   heart conditions which can result  in a heart
   attack56 and possibly death, especially among
   postmenopausal women.7
• If you have a lung disease, air pollution can
   enter your respiratory tract and cause health
   problems including inflammation  of the
   lungs, difficulty breathing, and aggravation of
   asthma and COPD.
• If you have diabetes, exposure to  air pollution
   may  increase the  risk of heart attack, stroke,
   and other heart problems.8

How to Avoid or Minimize Your
Exposure to Air Pollution
Check the Air Quality Index (AQI) each  day.
The AQI  reports on how clean the air is and
whether it will affect your health. Reduce your
outdoor activity as much as possible  on poor air
quality days. You can learn more about the AQI
by visiting www.epa.gov/airnow. You also can
learn more about the daily air quality through
newspaper, television, and radio weather

Pesticides and Cleaning Agents
Pesticides and cleaning agents, in the form of
powders, gels, liquids, or sprays, are powerful
chemicals used in the  home and garden to
clean surfaces and kill pests. Overexposure to
the harmful chemicals in pesticides and cleaning
agents can lead to:
• Headaches
• Dizziness
• Muscle twitches
• Nausea, and
• Weakness
If you, a family member, or friend experiences
any of these symptoms, call your local poison
control center.
Emergency room surveys suggest that children
under six are more likely to be poisoned while
visiting grandparents—where poisons are more
likely to be in reach and without child-proof
closures—than in their own homes.
While older adults accounted for less than three
percent of reported poisoning incidents, they
were twice as likely as children and younger
adults to experience a serious outcome and 10
times as likely to die as a  result of exposure
to these chemicals.11 In addition, long-term
exposure to pesticides has been linked to health
problems such as cancer and neurological
problems such as dementia.1213

How to Avoid or Minimize
Your  Exposure to Pesticides or
Cleaning Agents
• Keep products in the container in which they
   came. Read the labels  carefully and follow all
   the recommended  precautions.
• Dispose of pesticides and  cleaning agents
   according to label instructions.
• When using products inside your home, leave

   doors and windows open and turn on a fan
   so there is plenty of ventilation.
• Only use the product in the problem
   area. Limit the amount you use to the
   recommendations on the label.
• Never use outdoor products indoors.  Be
   sure to  close the doors and windows of your
   home before applying products outside.
• After using these products, always wash your
   hands and any other parts of your body or
   clothing that might have been exposed to

Did you know that the lead  you were exposed
to earlier in your life is still in your body?
Lead is stored in your bones where it may not
have any negative health effects until later in
life. During menopause, bone stores break
down and  release accumulated lead into your
bloodstream. Among older women, blood lead
levels may be up  to 25 to 30 percent higher
than prior to menopause.14
These increases, combined with  environmental
exposure to lead in water or the home, can
have negative health impacts. Higher blood lead
levels can increase your risk for hypertension,
atherosclerosis, and reduced kidney function.14
In addition, poisoning can lead to decreased
cognitive functioning, with symptoms that are
similar  to dementia.15






Did  you  know?
• Use of hormone therapy for
   menopause may increase
   your risk of developing
• In 2003, more than 63,000
   women died from COPD,
   compared to 59,000 men.2
• Diabetes is a major women's
   health problem, particularly
   for African Americans and
   American Indian/Alaska
What Can You Do?
• See a doctor right away if you experience
   symptoms such as headaches, dizziness,
   muscle twitches, nausea, or weakness.
• Call your local public water supplier for annual
   drinking water quality reports. Have private
   water wells tested  annually by a certified
   laboratory. For more information call the EPA's
   Safe Drinking Water Hotline (1-800-426-4791
   or www.epa.gov/safewater).
• Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in
   good condition; do not sand or burn off paint
   that may contain lead.
• Do not remove lead paint yourself. To remove
   lead hazards, hire a certified abatement

Where  Can I Go to Learn More?

Aging Adults and Environmental Health Issues
EPA's Aging Initiative is working to protect the
health of older adults  from environmental
hazards through risk management  and prevention
strategies,  education, and research. For more
information about EPA's Aging Initiative, visit www.

Older Adults and Air Quality

Air Quality
Environmental Protection Agency
Air Quality Index
www.a i rn ow.gov

Indoor Air Quality

Smoke Free Homes

Environmental Health

Heart Disease and Stroke
American Heart Association

Lung Diseases
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
American Lung Association

Women's Health Issues
National Research Center for Women and

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

1  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2  American Lung Association, http://www.lungusa.
3  Muldon, S.B.; Cauley, J.A.; Kuller, L.H.; Morrow,
L; Needleman, H.L; Scott, J.; Hooper, F.J.; Effects of
blood levels on cognitive function of older women.
4 American Heart Association,
5 Brook, R.D.; Franklin B.; Cascio W.; Hong, Y.;
Howard  G.; Lipsett, M.; Luepker, R.; Mittleman, M.;
Samet, J.; Smith Jr, S.C.; and Tager, I., 2004. Air
pollution and cardiovascular disease. Circulation
109:2655-2671. http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/
6 Zanobetti, A.; and Schwartz, J., 2007. Particulate air
pollution, progression, and survival after myocardial
infarction. Environmental Health Perspectives
7 Miller, K.A.; Siscovick, D.S.; Sheppard, L; Shepherd,
K.; Sullivan, J.H.; Anderson, G.L.; and Kaufman,
J.D., 2007. Long-term exposure to air pollution and
incidence of cardiovascular events in women. N Engl J
Of Med. 365(5):447-458.
8 Zanobetti, A. and Schwartz, J., 2002. Cardiovascular
damage  by airborne particles: are diabetics are more
susceptible? Epidemiology 13(5): 588-592.
9 Barr, R.G.; Wentowski,  C.C.; Grodstein, F.;
Somers,  S.C.; Stampfer, M.J.; Schwartz, J.; Speizer,
F.E.; and  Camargo, C.A. 2004.  Perspective study of
postmenopausal hormone use and newly diagnosed
asthma and chronic obstructive  pulmonary disease.
Arch Intern Med. 164: 379 - 386.
10  U.S.  Department of Health and Human Services,
11  National Poison Control Center Data, 1993-1998.
12  Dich, J.; Zahm, S.H.; Hanberg, A.; and Adami,
H., 2004. Pesticides and cancer.  Cancer Causes &
Control,8(3), 420-443.
13  Kamel, F. and Hoppin, J.A., 2004. Association
of pesticide exposure with neurologic dysfunction
and disease. Environmental Health Perspective,
14  Nash, D.; Magder, L.S.; Sherwin, R.; Rubin,  R.J.;
and Silbergeld, E.K., 2004. Bone density-related
predictors of blood lead level  among pre- and
postmenopausal women in the  United States.
American Journal of Epidemiology, 160, 901-911.
15  Carpenter, D.O., 2001. Effects of metals on the
nervous  system of humans and  animals. International
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental
Health, 14(3), 209-218.
 Publication Number EPA 100-F-07-028