Air Pollution and Asthma: Look Again

Published June 1, 1997

The disturbing spread of asthma in Europe and the U.S. over the last several decades has prompted many observers to see a link between this chronic and debilitating disease and high levels of air pollution. But there is mounting evidence that no such correlation exists.

Comparisons have been made between the prevalence of asthma and allergy in highly polluted Leipzig in the former East Germany and clean, green Munich in the West. Surprisingly, asthma and allergies are less prevalent in dingy Leipzig than in the sparkling Bavarian capital. Comparisons between environmentally correct Sweden and polluted Poland show the same phenomenon.

Writing in a recent issue of Science, William O.C.M. Cookson and Miriam F. Moffatt explain this by observing that for asthmatics, the problem is indoors (and in their genetic makeup), not outdoors. “For asthmatics the most important source of allergens is the house dust mite,” they note. “These mites thrive in warm, moist conditions and are ubiquitous in human bedding.”

PF: For more on Cookson’s and Moffatt’s findings, see Science, Vol. 275, 3 January 1997, page 41. The article is available through PolicyFax; call 847-202-4888 and request document #?????????