As coronavirus continues to spread, people with asthma have faced a higher death rate. And asthma itself is a huge issue too, killing ten Americans every day. This week, we take a deep dive into the South Bronx in New York City, a low-income, high-density, predominantly Black and Latino community nicknamed “Asthma Alley” due to its high asthma rate, and discuss what causes and triggers asthma, why the South Bronx and other marginalized communities face such high rates, and how we could treat and prevent asthma moving forward. With special guest Dr. Elizabeth Garland: a pediatrician and Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Normally on The Sweaty Penguin, we’ve looked at an environmental hazard and discussed some of the health impacts of it. This episode was interesting, since it was our first time doing the reverse: taking a health issue and looking at its many environmental causes. And in this episode, we barely scratched the surface.
I was excited to learn more about asthma, since I myself am, in my allergist’s words, “prone to asthma.” I do experience symptoms a few times per year and need my emergency inhaler, so I can only imagine how scary it must be to experience symptoms every day. And even as someone with personal familiarity with asthma, I had so much to learn. I didn’t know what the body is actually doing during an asthma attack, I didn’t know quite how many triggers there were, and I didn’t know that the environment plays as big of a role as it does.
The South Bronx turned out to be a really interesting case study, since it incorporates so many important issues that are in the news today. The South Bronx is predominantly Black and Latino, and like many Black and Latino communities across the country, the South Bronx is full of hazardous facilities degrading air quality and environmentally-unsafe housing. The South Bronx has also been a hotspot for COVID-19 in New York City, and due to asthma prevalence, COVID-19 death rates in the Bronx are 50% higher than Manhattan. And asthma takes a toll on the economy and the workforce, at a time when the U.S. economy is struggling as is.
Dr. Garland brought such an interesting perspective as our first medical expert on the show. Dr. Garland has extensively researched the impact of green housing on asthma, and her findings have been staggering. By removing indoor triggers and providing ventilation through green housing, asthma symptoms among her test subjects dropped to zero. It was really interesting to learn more about her research and her experience as a pediatrician and reflect on where to go from here.
While writing this episode, I kept feeling so grateful for the air I breathe, to the point where I think my breathing actually has been really weird for a couple weeks. Regardless, I hope any asthmatics listening can learn a bit more about what asthma is and what causes it (since I didn’t even know fully myself!), and I hope everyone can learn a bit about some of the effects of the injustice facing many low income and marginalized communities across the country. It’s really scary to think that not everyone has access to clean air, especially when getting that clean air isn’t as challenging as it sounds and everyone would benefit as a result.
I hope you enjoy this week’s episode!