Air Quality and Asthma
Photo from Econewsnetwork “35 worst cities for asthma”
The Clean Air Act has improved air quality over the past 40 years, yet there are remaining emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAP). Sources include fossil fuel power plants and industrial sites that spew HAP into both residential and nonresidential communities. Air pollution can travel long distances affecting people who live far from the source. In the U.S. alone, there are 13,000 premature deaths, 200,000 heart attacks and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks that are due to coal power plants (Bailey, 2011). Air pollutants are a public health hazard and result in an array of aversive outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, asthma, other respiratory illnesses and premature death (Bailey, 2011). Some air pollutants released during the combustion of fossil fuels include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, volatile compounds and sulfur oxides (Bailey, 2011). Asthma is one of the major respiratory illnesses and is increasingly common, especially among young children.
Fossil fuel emissions directly correlate to asthma rates and symptoms. For example, NOx affects the lung airways, leading to inflammation, asthma attacks and worsened asthma symptoms. Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases of childhood (LADPH, 2014). It’s an inflammatory disease of the lung airways. Symptoms include, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. To reduce the effects of air pollution on human health, environmental triggers such as air pollutants must be reduced. According to the LA County Department of Public Health, about 240,000 children under the age of 17 have asthma (LADPH, 2014). Who is being affected the most by asthma? The CDC confirms that children who have asthma are mostly poor African American or Latinx children who live in poverty. This is a representation of health disparities as a result of environmental exposure, risk, and potentially environmental racism. Environmental racism is a term used to describe how minority groups (primarily non-white persons) are exposed to a disproportionate amount of risk, such as toxic and hazardous waste, environmental pollution, lack of regulations and policies, government neglect, and low land values of colored communities. It is no coincidence that children who are poor Latinx or African Americans have the highest rates of asthma.
From the LA Times, Article cited as Moreno, 2017.
Healthcare costs of asthma are an additional burden on families who are already struggling as it is. Air pollution can be directly linked to the healthcare costs of asthma. The costs include ER visits, hospitalizations, medications, lost days of work/school as well as morbidity and mortality. Asthma is one of the leading causes of ER visits among children younger than 17 years (LAPDH, 2014). Although the Clean Air Act has implemented some remediation, there is a lot of improvement in air quality that is necessary to decrease health disparities and healthcare costs. Health outcomes due to poor air quality are a reality for many Americans. Of the U.S. population, about 40% (126 million people) live in areas that do not meet national air quality standards (Moreno, 2017). Meaning, almost half of Americans breathe air that is not safe. Air quality is integral to the functioning of society at the most basic level, in this case, breathing. Environmental health affects economic and social prosperity. For example, asthma is one of the most common causes of children missing school which translates into parental absenteeism from work.
Asthma prevalence and rising incidence exemplify how air pollution is a public health issue. There needs to be both state and federal collaboration to engage solutions, regulations, and legislation to decrease air pollution and increase air quality. We need to vote for representatives who will protect the Clean Air Act. Let’s use this information to make decisions when we vote in the next election.
Asthma 101. (n.d.) Retrieved October 4, 2019, from Colorado Allergy & Asthma
Centers website: https://coloradoallergy.com/asthma-101/
Bailey, D. (2011). Gasping for air: Toxic pollutants continue to make
millions sick and shorten lives. In NRDC.
Los Angeles Department of Public Health. (2014). Breathing easy? child
asthma in Los Angeles. Retrieved from http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/docs/
Moreno, I. S., & Revesz, R. L. (2017). Latinos are disproportionately affected by asthma, and Trump’s policies are making it worse. In Los Angeles times.
Newkirk, V. R. (2018). Trump’s EPA concludes environmental racism
is real. In The Atlantic.
Preserve the Clean Air Act. (n.d.) Retrieved October 4, 2019, from NRDC