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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014

News

WTAE-TV: Asthma increasing among Pittsburgh-area kids

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

We did our research at the state Department of Health. We charted the most recent numbers of school kids in western Pennsylvania diagnosed with asthma and then compared that with 10 years ago.

Check this out:

In Allegheny County, a 60 percent increase in the rate of school children with asthma.
In Butler County, a 63 percent increase.
In Greene County, a 79 percent spike.

Those are the kind of numbers that made us ask, "What's going on?"

On a hot, humid summer day, nine out of 10 kids in western Pennsylvania might jump at the chance to hang at the pool. But the other one in 10 might take a pass. They're the kids for whom the chlorine, the humidity and the allergens are triggers.

Cameron Short: "Sometimes I have to stop and I feel like people just want to scream at me, but they don't know I have asthma."

Cameron Short and his sister, Mekayla, are among the more than 20,000 school children in Allegheny County diagnosed with asthma -- and that's a number that has never been higher.

In 1997, 7 percent of school kids in Allegheny County were diagnosed with asthma. By school year 2006, the asthma rate had climbed to 11.3 percent of all kids. That's higher than the national average of 8.9 percent of children with asthma.

And for kids in some individual school districts, the numbers are even higher still, according to a Children's Hospital study.

Dr. Fernando Holguin, Children's Hospital of UPMC: "Children's did a survey not too long ago that suggests as high as 25 percent of children with asthma, which is extremely high compared to the national average."

Dr. David Skoner, Allegheny General Hospital: "If you go into some schools locally here -- and I've gone into many of them, chatted with nurses and principals and so on -- some of the schools claims or report that 50 percent of their population has asthma."

That's a lot of kids with asthma. But what's unique about Pittsburgh that's causing numbers here to climb so dramatically? Experts say it could be a lot of things -- diesel exhaust on school buses, obesity, drastic climate changes, and modern air-tight home construction that doesn't allow fresh air to get in.

But mostly, they say...

Dr. Bruce Dixon, Allegheny County Health Department: "I think it has to do with our air quality, to be perfectly honest."

Skoner: "Number one that comes up on the radar screen is pollution."

But how can that be? Fifty years ago, Pittsburgh's steel mills pumped out so much pollution that street lights came on in the middle of the day, and fewer people had asthma back then.

Dr. Fred Harchelroad, Allegheny General Hospital: "When the smokestacks were belching out all that black stuff, a lot of that particulate matter was actually pretty large that would get filtered out in your nose. It wouldn't even make it into your lungs."

And today's smokestacks emit particles that are so small, they bypass the filters and go straight to the lungs. So why isn't more being done to reduce particle pollution -- especially in the Clairton area, which has the worst air in the nation, according to the American Lung Association?

To read more or see the video, visit WTAE-TV's web site

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