May is Asthma Awareness Month. Over 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, with 10 of them losing their lives each day. The leading chronic disease in children, asthma is the top reason for missed school days. America’s underserved communities, mostly poor and Black or Brown, experience higher rates of illness and far worse outcomes.
Factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) emit up to 400 different toxins, including endotoxins, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide as well as particulate matter. Studies routinely show increased prevalence of asthma, not only among the workers in factory farms but also in nearby communities. According to a University of Wisconsin study published last year, people living within three miles of a CAFO were 1.8-1.9 times more likely than those living five miles away, to report one or more asthma attacks in the last 12 months or need asthma medication.
Asthma isn’t the only disease disproportionately impacting people who work in or live near factory farms. A study in Nature found that people who live near swine CAFOs are 30-38% more likely than others to get MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a virulent staph infection.
When we talk about Asthma Awareness Month, let’s not forget asthma sufferers in and around CAFOs. These people are paying for America’s cheap hamburgers with their lives.
Amy Halpern-Laff is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for FFAC.