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The rising cost of breathing

Friday, March 30, 2007

Consumer Affairs reports the new availability of environmentally sensitive asthma medication, prompting an FDA mandate to discontinue the production of traditional Albuterol inhalers by 2008. Up until now, these inhalers used ozone-depleting CFCs as a propellant, but avoided prohibition under the Montreal Protocol due to medical necessity. The new inhalers use a more benign propellant known as hydroflouroalkane (HFA), but are expected to cost an average of $26 more per prescription and have a significantly reduced shelf life. As one of the most common drugs prescribed in the United States, Americans are expected to spend an additional $1.2 billion per year on the new inhalers.

Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that asthma rates increase with exposure to environmental pollutants, such as ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, and particulate matter. In the United States, much of this outdoor pollution comes from automotive emissions, coal-fired power plants, and other forms of carbon combustion.

According to a report by the Asthma Regional Council, asthma rates have increased in the past decade, costing an estimated $16 billion per year in medical costs and lost productivity. New England states fare worst in the nation; 14% of New England children have been diagnosed with asthma at some point during their lives.

I happen to fall within that 14 percent. While growing up in the state of Maine, I too developed mild asthma at the age of eleven. While there is no conclusive research on the cause of Maine’s mysteriously high asthma rate, some sources suggest it may be influenced by prevailing winds that blow coal plant pollutants from Mid-western states over to the eastern border.

It’s enough to make me wonder whether or not my personal health has been compromised for the sake of energy profits. If so, should I really have to foot the bill for more costly inhalers to cut down on atmospheric pollution? Or should we make the real polluters pay for the health damage caused by their own eco-neglect?

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