How can air pollution cause asthma?

Paul M. Ehrlich, MD
Allergy & Immunology
In parts of the Bronx, an area with high air pollution, it is estimated that 20 percent of the children have asthma. Hospitalization rates for asthma in Bronx County and East Harlem are twenty-one times higher than those of affluent parts of the city. Hospitalization rates are 17.3 per 1,000 people and death rates 11 per 100,000, eight times the national average.

At Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, there are days when the special asthma room, where patients sit along a wall sucking on bronchial dilators, is chaotic as Lincoln doctors scramble to collect more information. Some patients are cocaine abusers, some are homeless, their medical records scattered at various clinics around the borough and effectively inaccessible.

This neighborhood, Hunts Point, is home to one of the largest wholesale produce markets in the nation, a large waste-disposal site, and multiple automobile junkyards. There are 10,000 workers in the area and 10,000 residents. Approximately one million trucks enter each year mostly late at night and in the early morning (as well as the traffic to nearby Yankee Stadium more than eighty times each season). Trucks wait in line to deliver their products while running their engines and exposing the environment to exhaust, both diesel and gasoline. Coal miners kept birds with them to warn of bad air building up. The South Bronx is America's canary because it points to what will happen in the rest of the country, if we allow air quality to deteriorate.

A generation ago, so many buildings were burnt to the ground that the police station, which remained standing, was known as Fort Apache. Today, community pride has rebuilt these neighborhoods, but bad air and asthma are part of the legacy. In addition to vehicle-belched irritants, almost all area residents are affected by the allergens: indoor air pollution, in particular dust mites; cockroach feces and body parts; and rat and mouse urine.
Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

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Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

Asthma and allergies are at epidemic proportions. It doesn't have to be that way. Two experienced pediatric allergists tell everything a conscientious parent needs to know about these conditions,...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.