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Balancing Health and The Environment

October 4, 2011

I read the linked article, Feds Finalizing Ban on Over-the-Counter Asthma Inhalers Over Environmental Concerns, on a Fox news site. Yes, ok, Fox News. But there are a slew of articles out there on this same topic, and this one isn’t substantially different. I chose this one because it had more content than most of the others.

The context of the debate the article surfaces is the impending phase-out of most over-the-counter asthma inhalers. Evidently, the OTC inhalers use a CFC based propellant which is seen as a potential, if minimal, source of ozone depletion. Evidently, this change has been in progress since 2006, so should not be news to users of these OTC products.

At the same time, the article notes “at their peak about 15 years ago, CFC inhaler emissions accounted for less than 1 percent of global CFC emissions. ” [italics throughout this post are mine, and denote excerpts from the article] That’s not a lot of contribution to the big picture of environmental CFC. It’s not clear to me that these inhalers are worth targeting. A much bigger concern is that many suffers of mild asthma appear not to be under a doctor’s regular care, and it seems likely that that population includes a great many for whom the cost of health care and prescription drugs is prohibitive. As the article points out, “And the FDA acknowledges that many patients may have bought this particular brand because they have no health insurance.”

So the key question really revolves around how the Federal Government balances health concerns against environmental goals. The fact that asthma is a condition that is thought to disproportionately affect certain minorities may contribute to the problem of OTC inhaler reliance among the economically disadvantaged. At the end of the day, pursuing environmental objectives is important, and so is managing a growing public health issue like asthma. I have to wonder if the Feds got it right this time.

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