The evidence is in. When it comes to health, genetics may load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. Since congestion and mixed land use are endemic to cities, urban areas pose a special health risk.
In mixed-use, inner-city neighborhoods, traffic thoroughfares, playgrounds, factories, businesses, powerplants, and residential buildings are in close proximity. The urban canyon effect means that the walls of tall buildings prevent the free flow of air that would otherwise carry away toxic gases and particles generated by industry and traffic. Aging housing stock can pose special challenges for people with asthma and allergies.
Children living in New York City are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as children in other U.S. cities, and NYC children living in neighborhoods with the worst environmental quality are at three times the risk. Urban children, families, and schools battle a disease that threatens health, quality of life, and academic achievement.
Even if it is not possible to avoid all environmental triggers, once you have identified yours, there are things you can do to reduce exposure and, in turn, avoid unnecessary asthma symptoms. Keep your child in school and learning.
Advice for parents: Manage environment, manage asthma. Begin by identifying triggers and taking steps to avoid exposure.
Follow the Air Quality Index and daily local pollen maps.
School Air Quality
Schools are worth worrying about because each one holds a concentration of children–all of whom have extraordinary vulnerability to pollution. Their special vulnerability stems from immature immune systems and faster metabolism, which results in greater pound-for-pound intake of food, water and air.
While an average urban neighborhood with a school may have about 25% children in its population outside of school hours, during school hours the population of children in the same neighborhood may be as much as 75%. It makes sense to protect children where they congregate–at school.
Poor air quality in schools can lead to lost learning time due to increased use of medication, doctor visits, emergency room visits, and hospital admissions. Inhaled airborne particles and gases can cause serious health effects, leading to headaches, difficulty in breathing, inability to concentrate, activity limitation, allergy and asthma symptoms. Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is of particular concern because it can to travel deeply into the airways and reach the lungs.
Read about AFSZ Air Quality Research.