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The U.S. Asthma Epidemic

People who suffer from asthma often say an attack feels like breathing through a pool of water or with a pillow covering their face. Unfortunately, millions of Americans know all too well what that's like.

In the United States, asthma is a bona fide public health epidemic: 17 million adults and 7 million children suffer from the disease. Every year, our society pays in excess of $53 billion to treat it. Millions of asthmatics, including hundreds of thousands of kids, make visits to the emergency room for medical attention. And in thousands of severe cases, people die.

The scope of this epidemic, broken down by state, is laid out in a report released yesterday by Health Care Without Harm, The National Association of School Nurses, and The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. The report notes that environmental triggers like air pollution can cause and exacerbate asthma, so it's critically important that we defend existing clean air protections and work for new ones.

No argument here, but many of our elected leaders in Congress apparently don't agree.

They are falling all over themselves to gut clean air protections. Yesterday, for example, the U.S. Senate voted on four separate proposals that would have limited—or outright banned—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ability to limit carbon pollution from the nation's biggest and dirtiest polluters.

Thankfully, all four proposals fell short. But the fact that they were even considered has serious implications for asthma sufferers. The rising temperatures associated with climate change can lead to greater concentrations of smog, a major contributor to asthma episodes.

Although yesterday's dirty air act proposals failed, the numerous tone deaf representatives in D.C.—who clearly don't get that the American public wants clean air protections—won't stop their campaign to leave no smokestack or tailpipe behind. Many oppose limits on the pollution emitted by cement manufacturing facilities, industrial boilers and incinerators, and coal-fired power plants, and are massing to block health protections from the EPA that would clean up these dirty industries.

That's a real shame. The EPA's recent proposal to clean up coal-fired power plants, for example, would prevent 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma every year. These are benefits that make people healthier and save us money.

Upon the report's release, Sandi Delack, president of the National Association of School Nurses, said:

Students miss more than 10 million school days a year because of asthma. School attendance is strongly correlated with academic success and graduation, and so additional days lost will add to the tolls asthma takes to not only its patients, but our society. With cleaner air, we could reduce the costs associated with asthma episodes—funds that could be better used toward education and wellness programs, to make sure all children succeed academically.

Here, here.