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January 26, 2012

Asthma rate and costs from traffic-related air pollution are much higher than once believed

Eurekalert University of Massachusetts Amherst - The total cost of asthma due to pollution is much higher than past traditional risk assessments have indicated and there is growing evidence that exposure to traffic-related air pollution is a cause of asthma and a trigger for attacks, so it should be included.

They conducted the study in Long Beach and Riverside, Calif., communities with high regional air pollution levels and large roads near residential neighborhoods. Total additional asthma-specific costs there due to traffic-related pollution is about $18 million per year, almost half of which is due to new asthma cases caused by pollution.

Using updated techniques that count asthma cases attributable to air pollution for the first time and including a broader range of health care costs such as parents' missed work days, extra doctor visits and travel time along with prescriptions, the researchers found that a single episode of bronchitic symptoms cost an average $972 in Riverside and $915 in Long Beach. Bronchitic symptoms (daily cough, congestion or phlegm, or bronchitis for three months in a row) are a critical outcome for children with asthma.

European Respiratory Journal - Costs of childhood asthma due to traffic-related pollution in two california communities




People who live in cities with high traffic-related air pollution bear a higher burden of these costs than those in less polluted areas, they say.

Brandt and colleagues say the total annual cost for a typical asthma case was $3,819 in Long Beach and $4,063 in Riverside, and "the largest share of the cost of an asthma case was the indirect cost of asthma-related school absences." School absences are an important economic consequence, they add, because "they often lead to parents or caregivers missing work."

Overall, Brandt points out that the results are relevant and applicable to many settings and "families with children who have asthma are bearing a high cost. The total annual estimate between $3,800 and $4,000 represents 7 percent of median household income in our study in these two communities. This is troublesome because that is higher than the 5 percent considered to be a bearable or sustainable level of health care costs for a family."

Riverside and Long Beach account for about 7 percent of the total population of California, the authors say, which suggests that state-wide costs of asthma related to air pollution are "truly substantial."

Recent research suggests the burden of childhood asthma attributable to air pollution has been underestimated in traditional risk assessments, and there are no estimates of these associated costs. We estimated the yearly childhood asthma-related costs attributable to air pollution for Riverside and Long Beach, California, including: 1) the indirect and direct costs of health care utilization due to asthma exacerbations linked to traffic-related pollution (TRP); and 2) the costs of health care for asthma cases attributable to local TRP exposure.

We estimated these costs using estimates from peer-reviewed literature and the authors' analysis of surveys (Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, California Health Interview Survey, National Household Travel Survey, and Health Care Utilization Project).

A lower-bound estimate of the asthma burden attributable to air pollution was $18 million yearly. Asthma cases attributable to TRP exposure accounted for almost half of this cost. The cost of bronchitic episodes was a major proportion of both the annual cost of asthma cases attributable to TRP and of pollution-linked exacerbations.

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