Soot particles spewing from the exhaust of diesel trucks constitute a major contributor to the alarmingly high rates of asthma symptoms among school-aged children in the South Bronx, according to the results of a 5-year study by researchers at New York University’s School of Medicine and Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
Over the course of the study, asthma symptoms, particularly wheezing, doubled among elementary school children on high traffic days, as large numbers attend schools in close proximity to busy truck routes because of past land-use decisions.
The South Bronx has among the highest incidences of asthma hospital admissions in New York City, and a recent city survey of asthma in the South Bronx’s Hunts Point district found an asthma prevalence rate in elementary school of 21% to 23%. The South Bronx is surrounded by several major highways, including Interstates 95, 87, 278 and 895. At Hunts Point Market alone, some 12,000 trucks roll in and out daily.
The study is a collaboration of NYU School of Medicine, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and four community groups—The Point Community Development Corporation, Sports Foundation Inc, We Stay/Nos Quedamos Inc, and Youth Ministries for Peace & Justice Inc. Endorsed by Congressman Jose E. Serrano, the aim of the study was to examine the impact of industrial emissions on air quality and to direct policy initiatives. Serrano sponsored the press conference today where the findings were discussed.
As part of the investigation, the NYU team dispatched a mobile van lab to assess ground-level pollution levels, and they conducted a “Backpack Study” to monitor carbon concentrations taken from air samples collected by commuting students. The findings have shown that high concentrations of air pollution worsen asthma problems among elementary school children in the South Bronx.
According to the study, among all of the children the daily average exposure to tiny particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) ranged from 20 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed daily limit of 35 micrograms per cubic meter was exceeded on about one-third of the study days. Only about 10% of the total mass of tiny particles was diesel soot, but it was this portion that was most closely related to children’s adverse health effects.