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Asthma Group Announces Plan to Reduce Childhood Asthma

Release Date: 12/05/2001
Contact Information: Naomi Mermin, Council Director, (207) 775-4776 Alice Kaufman, EPA Community Affairs, (617) 918-1064

Manchester, NH - A group of federal, state and private agencies announced a plan today to reduce skyrocketing rates of asthma in New England. The plan, announced during a meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire, of the New England Asthma Regional Council, involves better tracking of asthma rates, family health education, and new government policies aimed at improving air quality outdoors, in schools and in homes.

The 12-point action plan grew out of a summit meeting in May 2000 involving state and federal housing, health and environmental leaders. The group met several times to draw up a plan for reducing the environmental triggers of asthma.

"This group representing different agencies and states has come up with a comprehensive, aggressive plan for reducing the asthma epidemic in New England," said Robert W. Varney, regional director of EPA's New England Office. "Since we know there is a clear relationship between asthma and environmental triggers, we have absolutely no excuse for not acting now. Some of the action plan items will lead to measurable health results for our children." EPA has invested about $300,000 in asthma prevention activities in the past year and another $65,000 that directly supports the ARC.

"We are delighted to be working with government and non-government partners across the housing, environment, school and public health sectors in New England, " said Albert K. Yee, M.D., M.P.H., Regional Health Administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in New England. "Interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to reducing asthma incidence and severity, improving diagnosis and treatment, and understanding the causes and the triggers of this epidemic."

"New Hampshire recently received a three-year grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control for asthma. The grant will allow us to develop a statewide action plan to address this public health problem," said Dr. William Kassler, State Medical Director at the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

New England asthma rates, as reported recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rank among the highest in the nation. In Massachusetts the prevalence rate is 8.5 percent, in Maine 8.9 percent, in New Hampshire 8.3 percent, in Vermont 7.2 percent, in Connecticut 7.8 percent, and in Rhode Island 8.5 percent. In low income and minority neighborhoods, the number of people who suffer from asthma is as high as 14 out of every 100, with children suffering disproportionately.

Nationally, the number of Americans afflicted with asthma more than doubled to almost 15 million between 1980 and 1996. The associated annual health care costs have been estimated at $12.7 billion.

Asthma, the most common chronic childhood disease is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism – an estimated 10 million school days. Low-income and minority populations experience much higher rates of fatalities, hospital emissions and emergency room visits due to asthma.

The action plan announced today targeted action items in the areas of education, surveillance, reducing exposure indoors and reducing exposure outdoors.

Specifically, the plan calls for:

    • Development of a regional tracking and surveillance system to identify who has asthma and where they live in New England:
      The ARC was successful in soliciting asthma prevalence data in a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • Programs to help families reduce asthma triggers in their homes, educators to reduce triggers in schools and landlords to reduce triggers in housing:
      Through grants to community groups, health educators are teaching families and children about how to control their asthma through better environmental trigger management.
    • Publically funded programs to consider reimbursement for home improvements, like mattress covers and pest management that reduce asthma triggers:
      The ARC is studying opportunities for publically funding asthma trigger interventions that follow Rhode Island's successful use Medicaid funding to replace windows painted with lead paint for families who have young children that may at risk of lead poisoning.
    • New guidelines sensitive to asthma triggers to be used by all publicly-funded housing agencies:
      The ARC is developing Building Guidance for Healthy Homes that lays out key steps that housing developers, contractors, property owners, and consumers can take to achieve healthier indoor environments. The Guidance also presents specific building standards that can be incorporated into rehabilitation and new construction projects.
    • Public funding allotments targeted for making building repairs to reduce asthma triggers:
      Studies are under way to understand mechanisms for establishing a public funds account to be used for building renovations to make the home asthma-friendly.
    • Policies requiring that all new public schools are built to provide quality indoor air:
      Maine has a revolving loan fund that prioritizes state funding by providing funds to schools that include an air quality management plan as part of its renovation plan.
    • Each state to pilot retrofit or replace diesel school buses with emission control technology:
      Progress has been made in both Connecticut and Massachusetts to retrofit diesel school buses.
    • Enforcing anti-idling laws in communities with high risk of asthma.
      Efforts are underway to work with bus fleet operators in enforcing anti-idling laws.
Members of the Asthma Regional Council include: US EPA, US HHS, U.S.HUD, state environment, health, housing and education agencies from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the Conservation Law Foundation, Boston Medical Center, Boston Asthma Coalition and others.