EHC report finds children are at risk

Children in San Diego's most polluted communities suffer serious respiratory ailments; community calls for air pollution monitoring to protect public health.

provided by Environmental Health Coalition

ast month, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) released the results of San Diego's first-ever environmental health survey conducted by and for the communities of Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and National City. The findings of the survey, titled "Children at Risk? A Community-Based Health Survey of Residents in San Diego's Most Polluted Neighborhoods," show that a significant number of children suffer from respiratory ailments, including both asthma and probable asthma. These low-income communities of color also contain some of the largest industrial and mobile sources of air pollution in the county. Establishing air pollution monitoring is the top recommendation of the report. To support this effort, EHC launched "Write to Breathe Clean Air," a grass-roots letter writing campaign aimed at county officials to demonstrate broad-based community backing for air monitoring.

"Children's health is threatened from toxic emissions discharged by polluting industries businesses and mobile sources that exist in or near communities where children live, play and go to school. While the link between poor air quality and these illnesses isn't proven by this study, the findings suggest a strong association between the two. We call an local regulators to take action now to protect children's health" stated Joy Williams, EHC Community Assistance Director and primary author of the report.

The association between poor air quality and respiratory illness is supported by numerous scientific studies cited in the report which do demonstrate that many of the pollutants emitted by local industries such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, hexavalent chromium and particulates, are strongly linked to exacerbating respiratory illness.

The survey, conducted in the spring of 1997, was initiated by residents of the impacted communities as a result of their concerns about family health problems and the connection to environmental pollution from neighboring shipyards' metal plating shops and other sources of pollution. "While we are alarmed with the results of this study, it does provide baseline information that we can take to our elected officials and local regulators to demand further research such as air monitoring to protect the health of our families," stated Rosa Maria Angeles, EHC Community organizer and surveyor. Prevalence of disorders often related to exposure to toxic pollution was documented for 838 adults and children. Respiratory illness and associated symptoms among children were the most striking findings of the study. Some of the more disturbing findings include:

  • Nearly twice as many survey children reported symptoms of respiratory illness than the control group.
  • 12% of all survey children not previously diagnosed with asthma reported at least two symptoms of respiratory illness that may indicate undiagnosed asthma. 7.7% of all survey children had physician diagnosed asthma. This indicates that up to 20% of children may be asthmatic.
  • 10.5% of children living in Barrio Logan reported physician-diagnosed asthma as compared to the national average of 7.7% and the national average for Mexican American children of 4.4%.
  • 27% of all survey children reported nose and eye irritation compared to 15% of the control group.
  • Survey children reported more than double the incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms and headaches than the control group.

"The possibility that asthma rates of the survey children may be significantly higher than documented cases is cause for great concern because it is a chronic medical condition that is frightening to both parents and children. It is important to identify all children that have asthma to ensure they receive proper medical care. Equally crucial is the implementation of air monitoring to identify substances that may be causing or exacerbating asthma. Once recognized, the pollutants can be controlled and ultimately eliminated," stated Ruth Heitatz. M.D., and Senior Lecturer with the Department of Family and Preventative Medicine, UCSD School of Medicine.

The number one recommendation from the study is to conduct air monitoring of criteria air pollutants and toxic air contaminants in the survey area. Monitoring could take the form of a mobile or permanent station, but must include both criteria and toxic pollutants to determine overall air quality. Other recommendations include: analyzing cumulative health risks from multiple emission sources; follow-up asthma screening; and promoting pollution prevention and environmental justice.

"Air pollution is a serious health concern and our local regulatory agencies must protect us from toxic emissions by supporting efforts to improve air quality and thus, public health," concluded Williams.

  For more information on this community-based health survey, contact Joy Williams, Environmental Health Coalition at (619) 235-0281. Environmental Health Coalition is dedicated to the prevention and cleanup of toxic pollution threatening our health, our communities, and the environment.