Honk if You Have Asthma: New Study of the True Costs of Traffic-Related Air Pollution

By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte

Paul and I recently took Senator Rand Paul to task for asserting that air pollution has no connection to asthma. This would have been laughable if it hadn’t taken valuable news coverage away from the Kardashian divorce.

As we pointed out, air pollution is not one thing. Sulfur dioxide levels may be lower than they were before 1990, but other forms of air pollution haven’t gone away. These include black carbon, as scientist Matt Perzanowki told the New York Allergy and Asthma Society recently.

Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) have been proven over many years to “initiate or enhance” IgE production in the airways, both upper and lower, which is one big reason asthma prevalence is around 40% in Hunts Point where 12,000 trucks go in and out every day, as I never hesitate to point out.

The financial and health costs are well-known to be high enough to justify pretty drastic changes in public infrastructure. However, they are even higher than previously thought, according to a new study in the European Respiratory Journal.

Looking at Long Beach and Riverside in Southern California with high levels of regional air pollution and where large roads run close to residential neighborhoods researchers analyzed previous estimates of asthma cases attributable to pollution exposure and data on healthcare visits by asthmatic children.

Previous studies took a narrower approach, limited to pollution-related exacerbations of existing asthma cases. This team took into account asthma cases attributable to pollution and a broad range of costs associated with asthma, such as sinus and ear infections, and the cost of regular care including daily control medication, volume of health services the number of school absences, and wage losses for parents who had to take kids to the doctor.

The total economic burden of due to pollution in the two communities is approximately $18 million a year. The total annual cost associated with a case of asthma was approximately 7¬8% of average household income in both communities, which exceeds the 5% level that is widely considered sustainable for a family’s healthcare expenses.

Sylvia Brandt, lead author of the study, said:
“Our findings suggest the cost has been substantially underestimated and steps must be taken to reduce the burden of traffic-related pollution. While our study is specific to two communities in Southern California, its approach is applicable and relevant to other urban areas, especially since previous research suggests that over 50% of the population in 10 major European cities live within 150 meters of major roads.”

I second that.

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