Doctors Say State's Asthma Plan Should Address Pollution

Aug 26, 2012

Some doctors are criticizing the state’s newly-released plan to help those with asthma.  The plan advises asthmatics to avoid pollution, but the President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment Brian Moench says that’s not enough.

“For us to take a fairly significant public health issue, like rates of asthma that are increasing nationally and are increasing in the state of Utah, for us to look at that public health issue, and virtually completely ignore what we know is a major contributor to that problem, really is difficult to reconcile,” Moench told KUER.

Kellie Baxter works for the Utah Department of Health Asthma Program.  She says the plan does not attempt to address the causes of asthma, but rather to improve the quality of life for those who have the disease, help manage symptoms, and prevent severe attacks. 

“Taking medications, avoiding asthma triggers, hopefully that will enable people to manage their own symptoms so they don’t have asthma attacks so severe that they end up in the hospital or emergency department,” Baxter explained.

A recent Health Department report shows 240,000 Utahns have asthma.  Among adults, the disease has grown more than 25 percent in nine years.  Baxter says no one knows why the disease is on the rise. State and national data show that more people end up in the emergency room with respiratory problems on bad air quality days.  Brian Moench would like the Department of Health to proactively work to reduce the pollution that affects those with respiratory diseases. 

“It’s unfortunate - and the public health suffers - because our health department is not engaged in that issue.  It’s probably the biggest public health issue that the entire state of Utah faces,” said Moench, “My personal belief is if the Governor’s Office said we want to change this, we want the Health Department to be more engaged in pollution mitigation, then I think that could happen.”

Spokesperson for the Governor’s office Allyson Isom says the state is aggressively working to reduce air pollution through the Department of Environmental Quality.  Isom says adding that responsibility to the mission of the Department of Healthwould be redundant.