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Cost of asthma caused by traffic-related air pollution rising


January 26, 2012 - Washington

The total cost of asthma due to traffic-related air pollution is much higher than past traditional risk assessments have indicated, according to a new study.

A team led by University of Massachusetts Amherst resource economist Sylvia Brandt, with colleagues in California and Switzerland, conducted a study in Long Beach and Riverside, Calif., communities with high regional air pollution levels and large roads near residential neighbourhoods.

Total additional asthma-specific costs there due to traffic-related pollution is about 18 million dollars per year, almost half of which is due to new asthma cases caused by pollution, they report.

Brandt worked with researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, Sonoma Technology, Inc. and the University of Southern California.

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 dollars in Riverside and 915 dollars 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.

Further, 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 dollars in Long Beach and 4,063 dollars 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 dollars and 4,000 dollars 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."

The findings were released this week in the early online version of the European Respiratory Journal.

ANI

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