Slacker’s Syllabus: Asthma Alley

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Asthma rates in the U.S. are rising.

Most of us know at least one person with asthma because it’s just so common. In 2001, 1 in 14 people had asthma. By 2009, that number had risen to 1 in 12 people.

Now, a little over 25 million people in the U.S. have asthma. But the number of people with asthma isn’t the only thing that’s rising.

In 2020, nearly 4,145 people died from asthma, which marked a rise in asthma deaths for the first time in decades. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America noted, “Nearly all of these deaths are avoidable with the right treatment and care.”

No one knows what exactly causes asthma.

But the American Lung Association noted that scientists know a few factors that play a key role. That includes things that can’t necessarily be helped, like your genetics or allergies.

However, your environment can also be linked to asthma.

Even if you’re looking at people who all live in the same city, their neighborhoods aren’t all equal. And in the U.S., one neighborhood nicknamed Asthma Alley has shone light on the health impacts that your environment can have.

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In New York City, the South Bronx neighborhood Mott Haven, where 97% of the population is Latinx or Black, has earned the nickname “Asthma Alley.”

A predominantly low-income community, Mott Haven residents need asthma hospitalizations at five times the national average — and at rates over 21 times higher than other neighborhoods in NYC.

There are a few potential causes.

The Guardian reported that Mott Haven is close to a couple huge sources of air pollution, including four highways, the printing presses of The Wall Street Journal, and a Fresh Direct warehouse.

When Fresh Direct first proposed its warehouse, Mott Haven’s residents raised concerns about its potential environmental impacts. Plans moved ahead anyway and the warehouse opened in 2018.

In 2020, research backed the community’s concerns. A Columbia University study found that the Fresh Direct warehouse increased truck and car traffic in Mott Haven significantly — between 10% and 40%, depending on the time of day.


In most New York City neighborhoods, air pollution levels have been in decline, and air pollution sources have been reduced or removed, not added. Mott Haven, which had higher than average amounts of pollutants from traffic and other sources even before the opening of this warehouse, is an exception.

As asthma rises nationwide, Black people are the most impacted.

When you look at Mott Haven alone, it’s a clear example of environmental racism, or the “disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.”

But even zooming out nationwide, that picture still remains. The CDC reported that about 1 in 9 Black people and 1 in 6 Black kids have asthma, which is the highest rate amongst any racial group.

That’s not all, though. The CDC also found that from 2001 to 2009, asthma rates among Black children saw a nearly 50% increase — again, the most out of any racial group.



The rate at which Black people are more likely to die from asthma-related causes than white people.

Office of Minority Health

Asthma is also expensive.

The problems with chronic illnesses like asthma aren’t only tied up in health.

Everyone knows health care in the U.S. is a joke. It’s no exception for asthma. A CDC study found that the annual per-person medical cost of asthma was $3,266. Costs for asthma can go towards doctors visits as well as getting treatment, like inhalers.

And if you’re thinking that a little over $3,000 is not a lot, remember that the median household income in 2020 was $67,521.


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