By Bill Parry
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) represents an area of Queens known as “Asthma Alley” where residents suffer a high rate of respiratory ailments due to power plants in Long Island City and Astoria that produce over 50 percent of the entire city’s electricity. Pollutants caused by these power plants, combined with pollution from jets taking off and landing at LaGuardia Airport contribute to the risk of asthma.
Last Wednesday, Constantinides introduced a legislative package to combat asthma.
The first bill, INT. 1708, would require that all public schools have nebulizers available for all students and school nurses trained to operate them properly. The second measure, INT. 1709, would require the city’s Department of Health to create annual reports on the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations aggregated by demographic groups, including age, race and geography.
More than 80,000 children have asthma in New York City, including Constantinides’ son who takes five medications a day, and 7,000 are hospitalized for it every year. Asthma-related illnesses are a leading cause of children missing school — children with severe asthma can miss up to 30 days of school in the city.
With nebulizers available to all public school students, they can receive treatment while in school rather than going home or to a hospital. Reports about asthma’s prevalence will help raise awareness of health risks to parents so they can be prepared.
“We must ensure that our children have the resources they need to succeed in school,” Constantinides said. “Equipping public schools with appropriate medical devices, including nebulizers, will give kids in distress from asthma the critical treatment that they need. Data and knowledge about the prevalence of asthma will help families be aware of asthma risk so children can get screened early if necessary.”
New York state has already recognized the need for nebulizers in schools. The state Legislature passed a similar bill that mandate nebulizers be available at all public schools. However, the mandate was unfunded and never went into effect.
“The simple act of breathing, which most of us take for granted, is a struggle for too many in our city, especially our children,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), a co-sponsor of the legislation. “This package of legislation will, among its many achievements, ensure that every child has the right to learn and grow in our schools without fear of untreated issues with asthma.”
Constantinides, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, has made asthma awareness a community priority. The announcement also served as a kick-off for his Asthma Awareness Back-to-School Fair last Thursday to help parents screen for asthma and learn about its health effects.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr