The Racial Politics of Asthma

Environmental pollution could be to blame for the high rates among African Americans. 

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When it comes to statistics about African Americans and asthma, the numbers are enough to make you stop to catch your breath. In 2008 African Americans had a 35 percent higher rate of asthma than whites. According to one study, a quarter of the black kids in New York City's Harlem neighborhood have asthma. African-American children have a 260 percent higher rate of emergency room visits, a 250 percent higher hospitalization rate and a 500 percent higher death rate from asthma as compared with white children.  

What's behind the disturbing stats? Time magazine reports that one reason could be that so many African Americans live near sources of environmental pollution.

From Time:

68% of African-Americans (compared to 56% of whites) live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant -- the distance within which the maximum ill effects of the emissions from smokestacks occur.

Just as medical researchers once uncovered the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, researchers are now making the explicit connection between air pollution and asthma. Kari Nadeau, a physician at Stanford University School of Medicine physician, has been following the evidence on the asthma trail to understand the cause of the illness. Nadeau and her team investigated the effects of air pollution on children in Fresno -- one of the top ten most polluted cities in the country -- and reported the findings in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “Our research showed that the effects of air pollution in Fresno are associated with genetic changes in the immune cells of children,” Nadeau told me. “In other words, the simple act of inhaling polluted air affects the immune system’s ability to do its job. The increasing numbers and severity of asthma are directly related to these genetic changes. These genetic changes are permanent.”

Read more at Time.

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