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Asthma Awareness Month

Asthma Awareness Month banner

Now that spring has arrived, it’s time to raise awareness about asthma!  Asthma is a serious, sometimes life threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the lives of almost 25 million Americans, including an estimated 7 million kids.  The U.S. EPA is celebrating Asthma Awareness Month by spreading the word about how serious asthma can be and how important it is to manage environmental asthma triggers like secondhand smoke, dust mites, pet dander, mold and many others.  Please join the EPA in raising awareness of this condition by teaching others what asthma is and how the environment can affect people with asthma.

Although I have never suffered from asthma, I understand how it can affect someone’s day to day activities.  My childhood best friend, Katherine, suffers from asthma. My pet cats and dog would make it difficult for her to breathe when she would come over to play. With her inhaler in tow, Katherine was always aware of how pets could affect a play date with friends.

The EPA makes it easy for students to learn how to manage the environmental triggers of asthma.  You and a parent or guardian can visit to learn more about asthma triggers and Asthma Awareness Month.  What is even cooler are all of the interesting materials the EPA offers to raise awareness about asthma.  Tell your parent or teacher they can visit the EPA’s website to get a free copy of Clearing the Air of Asthma Triggers.  You and your friends can also read Why is Coco Orange? to learn about asthma and air quality. During Asthma Awareness Month this May, help spread the word about asthma!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

A Brief Insight into the World of Asthmatics

By James T. Young

The expanded conversation about Asthma Awareness in recent years is very good. I imagine that only people who actually suffer from it can appreciate how frightening or fatal an attack can be.

I had a summer job at a bakery in Richmond, Virginia. There were several steps in baking commercially. Next to the last step was was placing the dough in a pan and placing the pan on a rack. When the rack was full it was pushed into the steam room, where the bread rose, before going into the oven. One day the foreman told me to go into the steam room and straighten the racks up because they were all stacked near the door. I opened the door and began to push the racks deeper into the steam room. I tried to inhale while in the back. I inhaled, nothing! So, I inhaled again, nothing! I came out of that steam room like a shot out of a rifle. Once outside I took a deep breath and my lungs filled with air as I inhaled deeply.

All of the regular employees were laughing because that was a sort of “initiation”. They all knew that once you left the area where the door was open that there was no oxygen further back in the steam room and after a little exertion one found that out. That is the same type of reaction that Asthma sufferers must go through, except their bronchial tubes constrict keeping the air from reaching their lungs.

As terrifying as my “steam room” experience was, can you imagine what an asthmatic child or adult must cope with knowing that at any moment the air they breathe, food they eat or what they drink may trigger an attack? May the search for a cure and the dissemination of information about asthma awareness continue.

About the author: James T. Young, SEE empoloyee in the Office of Public Engagement.

Tackling Asthma: On and Off the Field

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By Chris Draft

While playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 years, I am proud to say I achieved much success during my career. But maybe my greatest accomplishment is just being on the field with asthma. There was a time when asthma would have been considered too great an obstacle to overcome to achieve pro football status. By being proactive and working with my physician to identify my asthma triggers, I was able to show that asthma does not have to be a setback in life.

I am one of approximately 25 million people across the U.S. who has asthma. People often ask me what it was like to play in the NFL with asthma, and my response is I don’t know what it was like to play in the NFL WITHOUT asthma. Asthma is a part of me and I’m pleased to be able to use my voice to show that asthma can be overcome.

During the last few years, I have been proud to partner with EPA to promote the message that asthma does not have to limit what you can achieve in your life. The Asthma Team at the Chris Draft Family Foundation, works to promote asthma awareness and education across the country.

These days, I am tackling asthma off the field. I continue to charge on in my campaign to raise awareness and help others triumph over asthma. During Asthma Awareness Month, I hope to inspire others by showing them how I achieved my success in controlling asthma. I can summarize it in a very simple statement: “Asthma can’t stop me, so don’t let it stop you.”

About the author: A former NFL linebacker, Chris Draft is also the Founder, President, and CEO of the Chris Draft Family Foundation (CDFF), a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering families to live healthy lifestyles.  Draft is a nationally recognized community leader and health advocate who serves as an NFL Ambassador, National Ambassador for the Parent Teacher Association, and a national spokesperson on many health-related issues, including the care and treatment of asthma, from which he suffers, and lung cancer, the disease that claimed the life of his wife, Keasha, late last year.

A leader both on and off the field, Draft has received a number of awards and honors for his tireless work in the community.  Learn more about his accomplishments.

See Chris’s EPA asthma public service announcement

Asthma Awareness Poster Contest

The U.S. EPA is celebrating Asthma Awareness month this May! Students in the 3rd-8th grades from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin are invited to participate in a poster contest.  Asthma is a serious, sometimes life threatening respiratory disease that can make it hard to breathe and affects the lives of over 25 million Americans.  Although there is no cure for asthma, there are ways to control its symptoms.  Help raise awareness about asthma by creating a poster that illustrates the different aspects about the condition.

Posters should help raise awareness about the positive aspects of asthma such as good asthma control and management, physical activity and asthma, asthma and the environment and asthma medication.  An example could be an illustration of how to avoid asthma triggers like mold, pet dander and secondhand smoke. Whether or not you suffer from asthma, this is a great way to inform other students about ways to manage asthma all the while having fun creating an artistic poster!  Please visit to learn how to apply.  All entry forms and posters must be received by Friday May 10, 2013.

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

Sister Blog: Closing the Asthma Gap – Spanish Translation

EPA’s Spanish blog, Conversado acerca de nuestro media ambiente, posted a translation of our recent blog post, Science Matters: Closing the Asthma Gap.

You can read the translation here – Cerrando la brecha del asma para los niños pobres y minoritarios.


Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente, el blog de EPA en español, tradujo una entrada reciente de nuestro blog, Science Matters: Closing the Asthma Gap.

Para leer la traducción, haga clic aquí: Cerrando la brecha del asma para los niños pobres y minoritarios.

Science Matters: Closing the Asthma Gap

To observe October as Children’s Health Month, we will periodically post Science Matters feature articles about EPA’s children’s health research here on the blog. Learn more about EPA’s efforts to protect children’s health by going to

Nearly 26 million Americans, including seven million children, are affected by asthma. But when emergency room doors burst open for someone with an asthma attack, chances are the patient will be a poor, minority child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), minority children living in poor socioeconomic conditions are at greatest risk. For instance, 16% of African American children had asthma in 2010 compared to 8.2% of white children, and they are twice as likely to be hospitalized with an asthma attack and four times more likely to die than white children. The asthma rate among children living in poverty was 12.2% in 2010, compared to 8.2% among children living above the poverty line.

“Across America we see low-income and minority children and families at a disproportionately higher risk for asthma and respiratory illnesses. Air pollution and other challenges are having serious health effects, which compound economic challenges through medical bills and missed school and work days,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “As the mother of a child with asthma, I know what it means for our children to have clean and healthy air to breathe.”

Administrator Jackson made those remarks during the unveiling of the Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities, a blueprint for how EPA and other federal agencies can team up to reduce asthma disparities.

A major part of that effort is the work conducted by EPA scientists and their partners exploring environmental causes and triggers of asthma, including how socioeconomic factors contribute to childhood asthma. The overall goal is to illuminate the underlying factors of asthma to support work on prevention and intervention strategies.

What increases the risk of developing asthma? While part of the answer certainly lies with genetics, as more than half of all children with asthma also have close relatives with the illness, the environment also plays a key role. Air pollutants, allergens, mold, and other environmental agents trigger asthma attacks.

EPA researchers and their partners are leading the effort to develop new scientific methods, models, and data for assessing how such triggers increase the risk for asthma and asthma attacks. The impact of this research has already contributed to current regulatory standards for two priority air pollutants regulated under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS): ozone and particulate matter. EPA’s asthma research has also been factored into health assessments for diesel emissions.

The next step is to learn ways to better protect those most at risk.

“Now we’re digging into the disparities side of the asthma problem,” said Martha Carraway, MD, a researcher at EPA. “Kids with poorly controlled asthma are more likely to be treated in the emergency room than kids with controlled asthma. So for public health reasons we need to understand how environmental factors, including air pollution, affect asthma control in vulnerable populations.”

To advance that work, EPA researchers and their partners took advantage of a 2008 lightning strike that occurred in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. The 40,000-acre (16,000-hectare), smoldering peat fire sparked by the lightning sent thick, billowing clouds of smoke wafting into the air.

In collaboration with scientists at the University of North Carolina Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma, and Lung Biology, a team of EPA researchers led by David Diaz-Sanchez, PhD compared emergency room visits for asthma with air quality reports. Looking at the results geographically, they found that low income counties had significantly more visits than more affluent counties, even though air quality and exposure levels were the same.

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

“EPA studies suggest that children and others living in low-income counties could be less resilient to air pollution, possibly because of social factors such as inadequate nutrition. For example, if you’re poor and you’re not eating well, your asthma may be more severe,” said Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH, Executive Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network, a national multi-disciplinary organization whose mission is to protect developing children from environmental health hazards and promote a healthier environment. “Of course, other factors may also be involved, such as whether kids take medications correctly and whether they have access to good medical care.”

EPA’s research on asthma disparities can help guide newer and better interventions for reducing exposure to asthma triggers and limiting the impacts of the ailment, helping to close the gap for minority and poor children and improving the health of children everywhere.

New Asthma Action Plan!

Lung anatomyBy Sally Perreault Darney, Ph.D. 

As asthma awareness month comes to a close, a new window of opportunity for helping children with asthma is opening.  Today EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, in partnership with senior leaders of the US Departments of Health and Human Services, and of Housing and Urban Development, is rolling out a new Action Plan for reducing racial and ethnic asthma disparities.  

As an EPA scientist working in human health, I am honored to have served on the work group that developed this plan over the past two years.  I enjoyed meeting asthma experts from across the Federal Government, from academia, and from advocacy groups, and attending workshops and meeting where we discussed the many dimensions of asthma. 

Did you know that approximately seven million children aged 0 to 17 in the United States suffer from this complex disease which is caused and/or aggravated by a host of environmental, genetic and social-economic factors? And that children from minority groups and children from low-income households are at greater risk for having the disease and, once they have it, they are at greater risk of suffering more because of it?   

My job was to convey how the research we do in EPA provides a critical environmental piece of the larger public health puzzle that is asthma, and how we can contribute to implementing the new plan.

Our research is helping to figure out why certain children get asthma and suffer disproportionately from it.  For example, we are evaluating the extent to which living near a busy street may increase a child’s risk for asthma.  We also evaluate whether certain diets, such as those rich in omega 3 fatty acids, may reduce the severity of asthma for some children.  And of course we are trying to determine what causes a child to get asthma to begin with.

“The Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities: Promoting Greater Collaboration and More Effective Use of Resources to Reduce the Burden of Asthma for Minority Children and Children Living Below the Poverty Level,” is aimed at increasing coordination of Federal programs, including those in EPA, designed to get the right asthma care with the right support to the right children.  It offers ways to help doctors, school nurses, and parents work together to ensure that children with asthma receive the most appropriate treatment, and that homes and schools will be asthma-friendly places in which all children can learn, play and thrive.   

About the Author: Sally Perreault Darney, Ph.D., is an Associate National Program Director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program. She has 20 years of research experience in reproductive toxicology and epidemiology, with a focus on pre-conception and prenatal determinants of children’s health. 

Asthma Awareness Month: Part III

By Elias Rodriguez

On a rainy, Friday the 13th the last in a long line of seven children was born to a Puerto Rican immigrant in Manhattan’s Beth Israel Hospital. Yep! The Big Apple welcomed me as a native New Yorker once upon a time, but no one gave me a “heads-up” about New York City’s poor air quality. Sometime around grade school I recall seeing my classmate suffer a wheezing, intense, asthma attack. Thankfully, the teacher knew what to do and she had his inhaler handy. Having an Asthma Action Plan is one of the key tips EPA offers to people who suffer from asthma. Folks can learn to control their symptoms and still maintain active lifestyles.

Here are some simple steps:

Know your Asthma Triggers and Avoid Them: Air pollution, dust mites, mold, secondhand smoke and even cockroaches can trigger asthma attacks. Learn your triggers and avoid them in your home and neighborhood.

Create an Asthma Action Plan: You can help avoid the emergency room by managing your asthma daily. With a doctor’s help, you should create an asthma action plan to help you effectively manage your asthma and reduce exposure to triggers.

Get Active: Even if you have asthma, by taking the appropriate medications and avoiding your triggers, you can still participate in sports and activities.

Be ‘Air Aware’: Check local air quality conditions at and make informed decisions about participating in outdoor activities.

Effective execution of clean air laws has improved air quality in New York City significantly, yet it still remains important for people to manage their asthma by knowing the warning signs of attacks, avoiding things that can trigger asthma attacks, and following the advice of their healthcare providers. Children are especially vulnerable, but can learn to manage their asthma at an early age with the help of their doctors, teachers, friends, and families. So, keep up the good fight and learn to breathe easy!

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Asthma Awareness Month: Part II

By Elias Rodriguez

New York City is home to 8,391,881 people, if you go by the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Lately, I’ve blogged about asthma because May is Asthma Awareness Month and this chronic respiratory condition is especially tough when you live in a mega metropolis like New York City.

Living, working and playing in the Big Apple is wonderful, but our combination of people, pollution, cars, trucks and 24/7 activity makes for some poor air quality.

Pollutants in the outdoor air, including particulates (soot) and ozone (smog) are major asthma triggers. When ozone levels increase, most commonly in the summer months, they can affect people’s health, especially children with asthma. Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor’s attention or medication. Asthma triggers include pets, pesticides, cockroaches, dust mites, mold and secondhand smoke. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Asthma hospitalization rates in NYC have been gradually declining since their peak in the mid-1990s. Yet, in some areas of the City, asthma rates can be found in the double digits.  It is insightful to look at asthma hospitalization rates because it is the most common cause of hospitalization for children 14 years and younger. In NYC, the asthma hospitalization rate per 1,000 (ages 0 to 14 years) is 9.2 in Bronx, 4.1 in Brooklyn, 4.0 in Manhattan, 3.9 in Queens, 2.0 in Staten Island and 5.0 for New York City. Hunts Point – Mott Haven in the Bronx has a rate of 11.5 and East Harlem in Manhattan has a rate of 11.2  Asthma is a leading cause of missed school among children and many New Yorkers suffer from poor control of their asthma.

In my next blog, I share how people who suffer from asthma can learn to control their symptoms and still maintain active lifestyles.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Swim, Bike, Run (Even with Asthma)

By Scott Fraser

I am not a triathlete; those people are animals! But each year I “compete” in one or two Olympic distance triathlons. A friend recently asked me the same question I continually ask myself during the race, “Why do you want to do this?” Good question.

Well, for me, it’s a fitness goal to work towards and a great way to enjoy the outdoors while training. Quite often it’s tough to fit into a busy schedule, but just 30 minutes of exercise each day can really help. I like to swim in the mornings, fair weather commute to work on my bike and run through Rock Creek Park, a wonderful resource close to where I live. I’ve been signing up for triathlons for several years now and just completed my 10th overall (first for 2012) on Siesta Key, Florida – voted the #1 Beach in America in 2011. But while training this year, I learned something new: I have asthma.

How uncanny that I should learn about this condition in May, which is Asthma Awareness Month. My new, super-awesome doctor explained to me that I have exercise induced asthma. “Uh, you mean coughing after working out isn’t normal?” Whoa, I’ve experienced that my whole life! She further explained it’s one of several types of asthma and prescribed an albuterol inhaler to use before exercise. It’s important to know that you can still remain active despite having asthma. By talking to my doctor I was able to create an asthma action plan that has helped reduce the all too familiar coughing after strenuous workouts. And it’s good to know that professional athletes like NFL legend (and former Notre Dame dormmate – go Dawgs!) Jerome Bettis are able to manage their asthma symptoms while competing at the highest level of physical activity. We are not alone, as almost 13 million Americans reported having an asthma attack in the past year.

So as we transition to Great Outdoors Month in June, think about ways where you can get outside and safely enjoy your favorite activities. How will you be enjoying our environment? I’ll be checking for air quality and the UV Index with helpful apps to plan my outdoor training for my next triathlon. Hmmm… I really liked swimming along Siesta Key Beach, so I’ll see which triathlon has a similar open water swim for later in the summer. I’ll also be sure to slop on some sunscreen and check the beach advisory site before the swim, bike, run fun.

About the author: Scott is the Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Public Engagement and works with stakeholders such as outdoor sporting groups. He enjoys getting outdoors whenever he can!