Asthma Alley? National Poll Ranks Harrisburg Area 14th: Sentinel News

February 4th, 2008: The Sentinel-News

Asthma Alley? National Poll Ranks Harrisburg Area 14th

By Heather Stauffer

The bad ranking didn’t surprise them, because they have been seeing bad numbers of their own.

For Dr. Stephen Krebs of Carlisle Pediatrics, it was encountering and more children with asthma in the last few years.

For Bets Clever of the Carlisle Area Health and Wellness Foundation, it was surveys showing that between 2002 and 2007 the number of area residents who said they had asthma jumped to 13 percent from 10.4 percent, above the state and national averages of 12 and 12.5 percent respectively.

And for the Rev. Jennifer McKenna of the Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania, it was knowing that the area has been ranked 14th worst in the country for particulate matter.

So when they heard that the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America listed Harrisburg 14th on its 2008 report on the most challenging places to live with asthma, they took it as a chance to urge people to action.

“We can’t change our valley and our geography,” said Clever, noting that the area’s naturally high pollen counts and unfavorable wind patterns definitely have an affect on asthma. But, she said, studies show that controllable factors like diesel emissions, smoking and obesity also matter.

Quoting a recent set of guidelines from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, Clever said obesity increases a person’s risk of developing asthma by about 50 percent. One-third of the people here are obese, she said, which would seem to identify fat as a major player in the asthma problem,

Quite a few people reported large patches of mold in their homes, she noted.

Krebs struck a similar note, saying he has heard a lot about the area’s poor air quality lately. But, he said, people can also help control or prevent asthma by limiting exposure to dust and animal dander and protecting themselves from respiratory diseases.

“It’s a significant disease that needs to be kept monitored and under control,” said Clever, noting that 42 percent of area residents who said they had asthma had taken at least one trip to the emergency room because of it.

However, although they noted the other factors, when it came to talk of the future, all three said they hoped certain pieces of public policy would eventually move the area off AAFA’s “worst” list.

“We need to get this anti-idling regulation passed,” McKenna said. In October, after months of urging from the CAB, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced that it was proposing a rule that would limit the amount of time a diesel-powered engine could idle its engine, thus cutting down on particulate matter emissions.

A public hearing on the regulations will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg, McKenna said. She urges people to attend.

“Give us five to 10 years, and you’ll see the air quality and ozone start to turn around,” Clever said. That was the prognosis she has heard from some people based on new emissions laws and the possibility of anti-idling regulations.

“I’d love to think it’s true,” she said.

Reductions in smoking would also help, she added.

“We have been making progress,” Clever said. “All we can really do is pass tougher public policy.”

Krebs also expressed optimism for the future but said the results have not yet been assured.

“I think there’s some good ideas out there,” he said. “They still need to be implemented.”

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