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ASTHMA - A Growing Illness Triggered
By Air Pollution

Asthma is a serious problem in our society. It kills about 4,000 people a year and was estimated to cost 4.2 billion in medical care and lost time from school and work in 1990.* Asthma is the leading chronic illness of children in the United States and the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness. Asthma deaths and the number of Americans diagnosed with asthma continue to increase each year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports asthma education and prevention as part of its general commitment to environmental and health protection and its specific commitment to environmental justice for all Americans. Environmental justice means that all people should have an equal opportunity to live in a healthful environment. Where people are living in unhealthful environments, EPA is working to protect them by trying to reduce or eliminate their exposures to pollution.

Asthma can be aggravated by exposure to pollutant "triggers" such as certain components of vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, tobacco smoke, pollen and allergens from animals and insects. Often, urban environments have high levels of outdoor pollution and poor housing conditions, which frequently are associated with increased levels of indoor pollution. Disproportionate numbers of people of color and people from low income households live in these areas, and thus may be exposed to higher than average levels of air pollution, both indoors and outside. These exposures, along with other factor such as inadequate health care, may explain why roughly two of three times as many African Americans as Caucasians die from asthma. Asthma also affects children disproportionately: five times more children than adults die from asthma each year.

EPA has made real progress in reducing air pollution that can cause problems for people with asthma. Levels of ozone, particles, and other contaminants in the outdoor air are decreasing in many places. EPA is also working to reduce pollution levels indoors, where many Americans spend 90% or more of their time. But there is still a long way to go, and everyone ,must be part of the solution. EPA can help people understand how air pollution can affect asthma, and how to prevent asthma episodes by reducing or avoiding exposure to potential triggers such as pollution.

*Asthma statistics cited in this fact sheet are from the Institute of Medicine's 1993 report Indoor Allergens: Assessing and Controlling Adverse Health Effects.

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