May 23, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 271 — Water safety, and grilling

Memorial Day weekend is coming up, marking the return of warm-weather activities like swimming. But disruptions caused by the pandemic mean some children are behind on swimming skills, and parents and guardians may need a refresher on pool safety. Indiana University researcher William Ramos says drowning is the leading cause of fatal injuries among children ages 1 to 4 in the United States. He says learning to swim is an important part of drowning prevention. But by the time a child or adult must use their swim skills to save themselves from drowning, it’s likely that several missteps have already occurred. According to Ramos’s research, three key factors are associated with fatal childhood drowning incidents: permission, supervision and caregiver distraction. In childhood submersion incidents involving permission, more than 86 percent reflected a case in which the child didn’t have permitted water access. This was also found to be a significant contributor to fatal outcomes. In cases involving supervision, more than 80 percent of child victims were alone at the time of the incident. Compared to incidents in which an adult was present, children who were alone were 35 times more likely to have a fatal outcome. Even when an adult is present, active supervision also matters. Incidents without active adult supervision were 24 times more likely to have a fatal outcome than those with it. Direct supervision by a parent was also protective, but incidents involving supervision by non-parents of the child, such as a grandparent or childcare provider, being twice as likely to result in a fatal drowning. Ramos says it’s important for parents and guardians to understand that supervision around aquatic activities requires a heightened level of attention compared to other activities, such as the playground. The Red Cross Water Watcher program can help people understand the level of direct supervision needed for aquatic activities, he says. Childhood drownings can happen quickly, so staying vigilant is key.

In other news, it’s outdoor grilling season again, and IU researchers Agnieszka Drobniak and Maria Mastalerz, working with their Polish collaborators, have found that the quality of wood pellets that many use to grill food is very important to ensure the safety of the users. Smoke from wood pellet combustion has direct contact with food and may pollute the atmosphere around the grill. Researchers investigated the quality of grilling wood pellets and chips available on the market, analyzing their properties as well as their combustion gases, and determining if a relationship between the fuel composition and emissions of gases and particulate matter during grilling could be established. Researchers looked at 45 types of BBQ wood pellets and wood chips available in the United States and Europe. While most were composed largely of biomass, undesirable components like bark, mineral matter, charcoal, coke, metal, rust, slag and petroleum products were also mixed in, many in elevated amounts. The study’s data show that grilling with contaminated wood pellets and chips leads to elevated emissions of particulate matter and formaldehyde, in comparison with recommended exposure limits. Researchers found that the levels of emissions changed during the grilling cycle, depending on the type of combusted wood, grilling conditions and fuel moisture content. As grilling increases in popularity, the researchers suggest checking for quality ingredients in wood pellets and wood chips to protect human health and the environment.