First Lady Launches Campaign Against Childhood Asthma

Published July 1, 1999

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton launched an asthma screening program at Draper Elementary School in Washington, DC–the city, she said, with the highest asthma rate in the country.

As she introduced her initiative, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was at work on a systematic review of the allowable limits for pesticide residues in food. Some observers are concerned that EPA’s Organophosphate Pesticide Tolerance Reassessment and Reregistration program will restrict or even eliminate the availability of chemicals that can dramatically reduce the incidence of asthma.

A study published in the British medical journal Lancet examined of 460,000 hospital admissions of children for asthma in 56 countries found that the disease is most prevalent in countries with the lowest levels of air pollution–relatively poor, non-industrialized countries. The researchers found that inhalation of cockroach feces–common in poor living conditions–not air pollution, was the principal cause of asthma.

The Lancet findings could explain why the incidence of asthma has increased rapidly in the U.S. as air quality has improved. It may also explain why black children, as Mrs. Clinton noted, suffer asthma at four times the rate of white children.

The primary weapons in the country’s fight against cockroaches are carbamate and organophosphate-based pesticides. Even if the specific forms of these chemicals used for cockroach control were not eliminated as a result of EPA’s pesticide review effort, their costs could increase due to spreading the fixed costs of production over a far smaller quantity of chemicals.