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

Do More to Fight Growing Scourge of Asthma in City

With New York’s air quality getting progressively worse, asthma, already a major health scourge in the city, is bound to become even more prevalent.

That was the conclusion of a report released last month by the American Lung Association. Pollution is "an everyday threat to just about every single New Yorker," stated Corri Freedman, director of advocacy at the lung association’s New York City chapter, a member of the Coalition for Asthma-Free Homes.

A threat that is magnified for New Yorkers – mostly low-income workers and their families – who reside in mice- and cockroach-infested buildings with severe mold problems, all of which are well-known asthma triggers.

"The asthma problem in the city is very serious. Yet not enough is done to address indoor asthma triggers that exacerbate the symptoms, and that, many times, are the result of poor building management," Freedman said. "We want to raise public awareness about it."

And tomorrow at 11 a.m. the coalition and a group of tenants, advocates and doctors will rally in front of 10 Stanton St. in Manhattan, one of thousands of buildings across the city with severe mold problems. The idea is to demand that city agencies take action.

Councilwoman Rosie Méndez (D-Manhattan) will be on hand to release policy recommendations on asthma and housing conditions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90% of every 24 hours indoors, and housing conditions have a very strong influence on the asthma epidemic.

In New York, 1 million people are diagnosed with asthma, and their condition is made worse by poor indoor air quality.

This is not an exclusively New York problem, though. Nationwide, more than 450,000 people are hospitalized and 5,500 die every year of asthma. The total number of asthma deaths has risen 50% since 1980. Among children, the death rate has climbed 133%.

But New York has some of the highest childhood asthma rates in the U.S., with 300,000 children diagnosed with the illness. So bad is the situation that asthma has been for years the leading cause of school absenteeism. It is also the most common cause of hospitalization for children 14 years and younger.

According to coalition members, a greater effort by the city is needed.

"The purpose of the rally is to tell the city that it should enact more strict guidelines in regard to pest control and the elimination of mold and lead from buildings," said Irene Tung, of Make the Road by Walking, a Williamsburg community organization and member of the coalition.

Actually, the coalition is working with Méndez to come up with a bill to be introduced in the Council in the near future.

Méndez and the coalition are suggesting things like the codification of guidelines for appropriate mold remediation as enforceable regulations in the City’s Health Code; to reclassify all housing code violations for pest infestation as "immediately hazardous" (Class C) violations and to better train housing inspectors, landlords and superintendents so they can identify mold hazards and the underlying defects that cause them.

Asthma triggers in the home also include cockroaches, rats, mice and dust mites. New Yorkers who have pets in their homes are 1.5 to two times more likely to suffer from asthma.

"May was Asthma Awareness Month," Freedman said. "And until May next year we want to commit to combat asthma triggers by raising public awareness, and by legislative and policy changes."