Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Asthma, Sports and Children

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Reader Adam Jensen forwarded this link for Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in which they discuss the increase in asthma cases and the effect it has on young athletes. Here's the lede:

For many children growing up in the shadow of coal-fired power plants, athletic participation is contingent on the state of their asthma and their ability to deal with pollutants generated by the plants. In towns across the eastern United States, power plants lacking adequate pollution controls are spewing emissions - recorded at 15 million tons a year nationwide - that travel into the lungs of little leaguers and soccer players alike. Scientists believe the toxins inhaled by children while playing sports are especially dangerous to young athletes for three reasons: their lungs are still maturing; their immune system is still developing; and the higher rate of inhalation during athletic activity brings more pollutants into their respiratory system. In a two-part expose, correspondent Jon Frankel explores power companies' resistance to the government's call to curb pollution, speaking with two former Environmental Protection Agency investigators and former EPA head Christine Whitman on why federal laws seem to have been laxly enforced and why the application of pollution controls has not been a top priority. But the findings are not simply a matter of coal-powered plants failing to meet environmental codes. The story goes deeper, connecting wealthy business executives and their sizable political endorsements, leading all the way to Washington. This REAL SPORTS/Sports Illustrated collaboration investigates the unsettling reality facing communities where the health of their youngsters is being compromised.

Of course, this being Bryant Gumbel's show, the piece is biased.

Let's examine what the primary causes of asthma are according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta:

Asthma is a major public health problem of increasing concern in the United States. From 1980 to 1996, asthma prevalence among children increased by an average of 4.3% per year, from 3.6% to 6.2%. Low-income populations, minorities, and children living in inner cities experience disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality due to asthma. Asthma’s effects on children and adolescents include the following:

Asthma accounts for 14 million lost days of school missed annually.

Asthma is the third-ranking cause of hospitalization among those younger than 15 years of age.

The number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold from 93 in 1979 to 266 in 1996.

The estimated cost of treating asthma in those younger than 18 years of age is $3.2 billion per year.

Currently, there are no preventive measures or cure for asthma; however, children and adolescents who have asthma can still lead quality, productive lives if they control their asthma. Asthma can be controlled by taking medication and by avoiding contact with environmental "triggers" for asthma. Environmental triggers include cockroaches, dust mites, furry pets, mold, tobacco smoke, and certain chemicals.

While the increase is alarming, air pollutants have not been shown to increase cases of asthma conclusively. Furthermore, since 1980 the air emissions have decreased dramatically due to regulations instituted by the Environmental Protection Agency and new technology designed to meet those standards. This chart shows emissions from 1940 to the late 1990's. Since 1970 (thanks to the Clean Air Act signed into law by Nixon, amended by George H.W. Bush and amended again by George W. Bush), emissions have been reduced dramatically and actually increased during Clinton's first term.

The Bush administration amendments were written to allow power plants to comply easier and cheaper as explained clearly here. Enforcement actions have also been roughly in line with the Clinton administration totals.

What doesn't make sense is the fact that asthma cases are increasing at a high rate while emissions have continued to be reduced. That says to me that emissions from power plants and industrial operations are not having the effect that would support Real Sports' report.

This is an attempt to scare the hell out of mothers and make them think that George Bush doesn't care about their kids health. The true facts are that the amended CAA will allow more upgrades to better filtration or air scrubbing equipment thus reducing even more harmful emissions.

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