From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Students in the South Allegheny School District, downwind of U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works, have asthma rates 300 to 400 percent higher than national rates, convincing district officials to install air filtration systems in school buildings.

But studies show high rates of asthma prevail throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and the entire nation, affecting one in every 10 students.

The prevalence of lifetime asthma among Allegheny County school students is 11.3 percent, with Clearfield County claiming the region’s and one of the state’s highest asthma rates at 13.5 percent of students, according to state Health Department numbers.

“Diagnosis of asthma is better, but I do think there seems to be a lot more of it,” said Carol Ann Kuczma, director of program and services at the American Respiratory Alliance of Western Pennsylvania in Cranberry. “We have a lot of it, and it accounts for a lot of hospital dollars.”

But a study released Wednesday by Health Care Without Harm, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the National Association of School Nurses, said the already staggering human and financial toll of asthma in the United States “is likely to increase” if Congress carries through with its threat to weaken the Clean Air Act and block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from tightening air pollution regulations.

Congressional action could include blocking the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.

More than 24 million Americans, including 7 million children, already have asthma, the study states. Direct and indirect annual national costs of treating the worsening epidemic is $53 billion, including $8 billion in out-of-pocket expenses for families.

“Congress is negotiating with the White House to continue funding the federal government with a new spending measure, onto which some members of Congress hope to attach EPA-blocking ‘riders’ that would also prevent the agency from reducing pollution,” the study release states.

A House bill introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, not only would block the EPA from reducing carbon pollution but also throw out EPA’s finding that carbon, as an element in airborne particulates, threatens health.

Air pollution — including smog, ozone and particulate pollution — can cause asthma and triggers attacks, the study said.