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Sebelius, Jackson: The public health costs of air pollution

The polluted air in our environment costs U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars each year and without aggressive action these costs will escalate, according to a recent opinion editorial in USA Today authored by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Agency (HHS), and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

In the editorial the authors note that currently one in 10 children have asthma and children’s exposure to air pollution and toxic chemicals costs America more than $75 billion every year. 

Most at risk are minority and low-income communities, including the nearly three-quarters of Latinos who live in areas that don’t meet U.S. air pollution standards, as well as African Americans, who are twice as likely to die of asthma as white Americans.

The good news is health and environmental agencies are working to reverse these trends. The authors say both the EPA and HHS have draft or revised “Environmental Justice Strategies” in the works, and both agencies have begun to combine their data to give local policymakers access to specific and detailed information on environmental factors and health disparities, among other initiatives.

Interestingly for medical professionals, both agencies report that they plan to explore the possibility of including information about environmental exposures in electronic health records. This last initiative would give health care providers an extra layer of context when diagnosing asthma and other conditions.


Related reading:
Opinion editorial: Health, environment and justice     (USA Today)
Asthma in the U.S.   (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Related resources:
Environmental Protection Agency’s updated Environmental Justice Strategy     (Environmental Protection Agency)
ALERT Project     (UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Health DATA Program)


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