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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Media Coverage

Asthma’s infesting Bushwick

Rampant rat, mouse and cockroach infestations in Bushwick apartments cause asthma rates to be four times higher than the city average, a new report has found.

A survey of 300 asthmatics found 69% have roaches in their homes; 67% have excessive dust; 47% have rodents and 30% have mold – all asthma triggers – according to the report from housing advocate group Make the Road by Walking and the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center to be released tomorrow.

"Asthma is as common as cockroaches in Bushwick," said Make the Road by Walking organizer Irene Tung. "Everyone has a friend or family member who is affected."

The rate of hospital visits for asthma in Bushwick was 991 per 100,000 people in 2003, which is nearly four times greater than the city average of 262.

Nearly a third of Bushwick asthmatics had attacks at least once a week, the report said.

"I’m furious with these conditions," said Gloria Reyes, who has asthma, as do her daughter Veronica, 29, and grandson Christopher, 3.

Reyes, 51, said she doesn’t know what caused her family’s asthma – but believes conditions at 1373 Greene Ave., where she lives, make it worse.

"There’s a big rat problem; there are holes in the floor where rats come in," Reyes said, adding that in November a rat bit her 8-year-old son, John.

"My God, I’m so worried that I’ll have an asthma attack and have to go to the hospital," Reyes said. "Then who will watch my kids?"

Her building also lost heat, running water and electricity last week after a second-floor pipe burst above her two-bedroom apartment.

The three-story building has 214 open violations – 19 of which are so severe they need to be immediately corrected, according to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Dennis Guh of Forrest Hills, Queens, was the last listed owner of the building, though tenants said a bank foreclosed the property two years ago.

Another Bushwick resident (and Make the Road Member), Mary Lebron, didn’t know she had asthma until after leaving a rundown Knickerbocker Ave. flat last year.

"We had rats going up and down the stairs like they paid rent," said Lebron, 43, adding she once believed her wheezing fits were caused by allergies.

"I became an asthma patient without knowing it," Lebron said. "It’s not funny."