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Air District Questions Asthma-Air Pollution Link

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

New research this week questions the connection between air pollution and asthma.

In 2011, a study by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District established a link between asthma-related ER visits and levels of PM2.5, or fine particulate matter in valley air.  But after a follow-up to that study, the Air District now reports that for a number of years, asthma-related ER visits increased even as PM2.5 levels dropped.

David Lighthall, health science advisor to the Air District, says the findings should not be interpreted as black and white.

Lighthall: With asthma, we have a seasonally revolving door of triggers, and in some cases it's PM2.5 and in some cases it can be upper respiratory infections.

Clean air quality advocates are less than convinced.  Dolores Weller is the Interim Director of the Central Valley Clean Air Coalition.

Weller: I think this is a premature statement that the Air District has made. We have not seen any data, we have not seen the actual study, we are concerned that this data is not peer reviewed.

Also concerning is the fact that the study found no correlation between ER visits and ammonium nitrate, an emission tied to the Valley’s booming dairy industry. 

Weller: I think people should highly question any data that comes out of the Air District or data that the Air District commissions. There is already credible data out there linking pollution and asthma.

The study did find a connection between ER visits and other particulates, including organic carbon, produced in car exhaust and combustion engines, and potassium, found in wood smoke.

The findings are being presented to the Air District’s Governing Board today . 

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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