Sandra Alexander, Raymond G. Slavin and Kenneth Naugles

Raymond G. Slavin, MD, professor emeritus of Internal Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine (center), with two clients he described as his “prized patients.” Sandra Alexander of St. Louis (left) and Kenneth Naugles of Cahokia, Illinois, (right), both had severe environmental allergies that were brought under control by immunotherapy – allergy shots.

For the past four years, I have run the Allergy and Asthma Clinic in the Roberts Building on North Kingshighway, between Page Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Our clinic provides free allergy testing, breathing testing, medications, and counseling for adults as well as children five and older.

In my 52 years as an allergist and asthma specialist in St. Louis, I have seen allergy seasons that have varied from year to year. But in the past few years, I have seen an increase the number of patients and the severity of symptoms they are suffering. Also, allergy seasons have grown longer.

I believe this is due in large part to climate change. There is no question that pollen and mold seasons are getting longer with climate change, and there is some evidence that pollen, particularly ragweed, is becoming more potent. Furthermore, as many who are reading this may attest, allergy seasons that used to end in October are now extending into November. And symptoms are worse, the medication that used to work just doesn’t seem to do the job.

For people in St. Louis, asthma is a particular problem, one that is more acute in the African-American community, which comprises a large percentage of the patients I see at the clinic. In St. Louis city, children’s asthma rates are twice the national average and asthma death rates are three times the national average. African-American children accounted for 91.9 percent of all childhood asthma-related emergency room visits in St. Louis City in 2008.

This disproportionate impact is triggered by air pollution from sources like coal-fired power plants and diesel trucks, among other sources.

The consequences of this are hurting our city. Kids are missing school due to asthma attacks, and their parents are missing workdays because of their own asthma or from having to stay home to care for their child suffering an attack.

This something we neither can nor should tolerate. While my work focuses on treatment of these allergy and asthma issues, I believe there is much more that can be done in the name of prevention of allergy and asthma issues.

We can’t just snap our collective fingers and magically make these problems go away, but we can implement policies that will help reduce emissions and clean our air so that we can reduce the pollutants that trigger asthma and allergy attacks in the first place.

Under the administration of President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency developed the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever plan to reduce the emissions from power plants and promote cleaner sources of energy.

Recently, however, the Trump Administration’s EPA, led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, announced plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan, effectively promoting the development of energy sources more likely to pollute our air and water.

While the Clean Power Plan would by no means have eliminated asthma or allergies, the cleaner air it worked towards would help the patients I see and countless others that suffer from these respiratory issues.

According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan is projected to prevent 90,000 asthma attacks, 300,000 missed work and school days, and 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030. Repealing these standards, however, means more sick kids, more expensive hospital visits, and thousands of premature deaths that could have been prevented.

Repealing the Clean Power Plan is not the direction we should go. We need to maintain the Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from power plants and promote cleaner sources of energy. Doing so will help us all breathe a little easier.

The free Asthma and Allergy Clinic, located at 1408 North Kingshighway Blvd., Suite 213, St. Louis, MO 63113, runs 1-2:30 p.m. every other Wednesday, by appointment. To make an appointment, email hrc@slu.edu or call 314-266-7661. 

Dr. Raymond G. Slavin is professor emeritus of Internal Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

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