Vol. 11, No. 24 Dec. 17 - 30, 1998


Experts: Plant Will Worsen Asthma


Two asthma specialists in the northwest Bronx believe the construction of a filtration plant near a densely-populated neighborhood will exacerbate the debilitating respiratory illness among local residents.

"[There will be] additional levels of particulate matter and changes in the air that we know can inflame airways and it's going to be here 12 months of the year," said Scott Schroeder, M.D., a pediatric pulmonologist at Montefiore Medical Center. "Children are going to be hospitalized or use more medications -- and that's if everything goes perfectly."

Schroeder cited the diesel fumes from the trucks involved in construction of the plant, organic mold dug up from the ground, and the emission of ozone as being among the chief enemies of asthma sufferers.

Ellie Lundeen, an associate professor of pediatric nursing at Lehman College, agrees with Schroeder and says the Department of Environmental Protection forecasts for low levels of ozone emission are not reassuring. "By definition, machines sometimes don't work," Lundeen said. "If for one day the ozone cleaners don't work, that's one day -- you can be very sick."

Asthma is a chronic disease marked by labored breathing, chest constriction and coughing. It is not specifically addressed in the DEP's preliminary draft environmental impact statement (PDEIS). Joe Ketas, a DEP assistant commissioner, said the PDEIS did include an analysis of particulates, however, and that the agency determined that emissions would be well below those allowed for in federal guidelines.

"So, in theory, the incremental impact of the water treatment plant shouldn't be of concern," Ketas said. "But there are a lot of unknowns out there about asthma, so I guess that's why people are worried about it."

Ketas said the upcoming draft environmental impact statement would offer more specifics on air quality "because there have been so many questions." But, he said, "the analysis won't change -- that we meet all the applicable state and federal standards at this point."

There is a high incidence of asthma in the Bronx, particularly in the South Bronx, where asthma rates in some neighborhoods are as high as 24 percent, compared to the national average of four percent. In the 10467 zip code, the area nearest to the golf course, the rate is 10.2 percent, more than twice the national average.

The high incidence of asthma in the Bronx has attracted the attention of local politicians and the media in recent months. Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein has taken a particular interest in the disease, documenting the problem and pushing efforts to amass more accurate statistics and to widely implement the school system's Open Airways program, which educates children to better manage their asthma.

Meanwhile, Schroeder fears he will be seeing more patients with asthma when construction begins and wonders if city officials understand the impact of their decision.

"Are they going to pay for the medicines and hospitalization these kids need?" Schroeder said. "Are they going to stay up nights while these kids are coughing?"

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