updated 12/30/2003 2:48:28 AM ET 2003-12-30T07:48:28

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry said Monday that he would combat growing asthma rates by applying clean air laws to farms and taking steps to improve indoor air quality.

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Applying clean air laws to farms would target operations that house thousands of animals that produce tons of manure, which fouls the air and water, critics say.

To make his case, the Massachusetts senator pointed to a University of Iowa study that says children who live near factory farms have a much greater chance of suffering asthma attacks than children who don’t.

“When we hear statistics like these and when we know how to turn them around, it is flatly unacceptable and irresponsible for the president of the United States to simply look the other way,” Kerry said during a visit to a community health center in Waterloo, which is in a county with traditionally high asthma rates.

Kerry: Asthma rates have doubled
The issue is important because of spiraling asthma rates, with 200,000 Iowa victims each year, including 40,000 children. Kerry said asthma rates have doubled over the past 10 years and evidence links the increase to air pollution.

Nationally, asthma cases jumped from 31,400 people per 1 million residents in 1980 to 38,400 per million in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Asthma deaths also rose during that time, from 14.4 to 17.2 per 1 million people.

In addition to improving overall health, Kerry said reducing asthma rates also makes financial sense because of the savings that would be generated by reduced health care costs.

Earlier this month, Wesley Clark released an environmental plan that includes setting tougher standards for power plants and demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency fully implement the Clean Air Act. Clark also said he would restore EPA inspections and personnel, strictly enforce all EPA rules and stiffen fines for polluters.

Most of the other Democrats seeking the presidency have similar environmental plans.

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