December 2007

Heart disease is
the tl killer of
women over
age 65.
                      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

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,
• Pollutants in the air you breathe,
                     Call the National Poison Control Center if you
                     or someone shows symptoms of having been
                             poisoned (1-800-222-1222).

• Cleaning agents and pesticides
  you use around the home, and
• Childhood exposure to lead and
  resulting health problems after

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

Staying indoors does not
necessarily provide protection
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 quality.

Health Effects of Air
• 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 attack5'6 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
• 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
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
You also can learn more about the
daily air quality through
newspaper, television, and radio
weather reports.

Pesticides and  Cleaning
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

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
• After using these products,
  always wash your hands and
  any other parts of your body or
  clothing that might have been
  exposed to them.

Did you know that the lead you
were exposed to earlier in your life
is still in your body? Lead is stored
     Did you know?
     • Use of hormone
       therapy for
       menopause may
       increase your risk of
       developing asthma.9
     • In 2003, more than
       63,000 women died
       from COPD,
       compared to 59,000
     • Diabetes is a major
       women's health
       problem, particularly
       for African Americans
       and American

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

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
• 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 professional.

Where Can I Go to Learn
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

Older Adults and Air Quality
ion= static.olderadults

Air Quality
Environmental Protection Agency
Air Quality Index:

Indoor Air Quality

Smoke Free Homes

Environmental Health

Heart Disease and Stroke
American Heart Association

Lung Diseases
National Heart Lung and Blood

American Lung Association

Women's Health Issues
National Research Center for
Women and Families
http://www.center4 research.

U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services
1 Centers for Disease Control and
2 American Lung Association,
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
content/full/109/21 /2655
6 Zanobetti, A.; and Schwartz, J.,
2007. Particulate air pollution,
progression, and survival after
myocardial infarction.
Environmental Health Perspectives

7  Miller, KA; 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.
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, R; 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 per- 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),
                                                      ectingtht Health
                                                    f Older Americans