Asthma Costs Skyrocket in the Face of Pesticide Spraying
(Beyond Pesticides, July 18, 2003)
A recent study, The direct and indirect costs of asthma, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, finds the financial cost of mild, moderate, and severe asthma to be astronomical, costing severe sufferers $12,813 a year. Pesticide reform advocates cite pesticide use reduction and non-chemical approaches to pest management as one way to reduce these costs. The study finds that a 5% shift from severe to moderate asthma would save approximately $1.4 billion annually in total costs.
Residents of low-income, minority communities in urban areas, whose asthma rates have been growing disproportionately for the past 20 years due to air pollution and sub-standard sanitation conditions, are being exposed to an asthma trigger through pesticide spraying in and around their homes. Exacerbating an already serious asthma crisis in urban areas through the use of pesticides leads to lower-income, minority peoples’ asthma becoming more severe, and subsequently them not being able to afford the growing price of managing this serious respiratory disease.
In a Daily News article on May 29, 2003, Beyond Pesticides reported that according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society on May 21, 2003, exposures beginning in the first year of life to insects, dust, outdoor air quality factors, weed killers, and insecticides, are linked to early asthma development. The EPA already recognizes that droppings or body parts of pests such as cockroaches or rodents, molds, and dust can all be asthma triggers, and this information only reinforces the widely accepted fact that children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are much more susceptible to pesticide poisoning than normal, healthy members of the adult population.
Physicians have hypothesized that asthma has been a rapidly expanding epidemic for the past two decades and in the winter of 2003, EPA confirmed their predictions by releasing a report stating that asthma rates among children have doubled since 1980. The report continued with the fact that African-Americans and Latinos represent disproportionately higher numbers of children with the disease. According to the most recent census, African-American and Latino populations dominate urban centers and low-income areas. These communities are also where asthma triggers such as cockroaches, molds, and rodents are most prevalent.
Because lower-income, urban neighborhoods tend to have broken, dysfunctional plumbing, collections of paper boxes inside generally crowded rooms, garbage around buildings, and warmer indoor temperatures, they tend to be ideal for high density breeding of cockroaches. Unfortunately, a common solution for home and garden insect pests is spraying of toxic pesticides such as pyrethrum, which is known to cause allergic reactions, including asthma and allergic skin disease. In 2000, an 11-year-old girl died of an acute asthma attack after washing her dog using a shampoo containing 0.2% pyrethrum.
Spraying hazardous chemicals cannot only lead to long-term health damage such as asthma and cancer, but acute poisonings such as the case of the 11-year-old girl are possible as well.
Beyond Pesticides worries that regular use and misuse of chemical pesticides in urban, low-income neighborhoods results in a large proportion of residents, especially children, in those areas becoming highly allergic and asthmatic. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology has already told us that treating severe asthma can be extremely costly. We are concerned that because of pesticide spraying, the residents of our country’s urban centers will find their asthma treatment prohibitively expensive.