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Dr. Gene Dorio: A healthier, cleaner, safer Santa Clarita

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: February 25, 2009 8:04 p.m.
Updated: February 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
As a doctor, I am particularly concerned about the health of our community and how it affects the health of the individuals who live here, especially our children and seniors.

Many people think of the “environment” as something that has to do with animals and trees. Although that is certainly part of it, the Santa Clarita Valley is also greatly affected by issues of air and water quality.

These problems are closely connected to human health.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Air Now” interactive Web site, last summer Santa Clarita once again had some of the worst air pollution in the nation. We are right up there with Riverside for ozone levels.

When I became aware of just how unhealthy our air quality often is, I knew it was time for the medical community to get involved.

I began to research the issue and found a flood of recent medical studies showing that children living close to busy roads are more likely to get asthma, that the proximity to major roads is linked to hospital admissions for asthma, that exposure to benzene is higher for children living next to high-traffic areas.

One recent study cited by the American Lung Association (see its Web site at www.stateoftheair.org/2008) suggests that year-round exposure to ozone may be associated with an increased risk of asthma.

Researchers tracking 3,500 students in Southern California found an increased onset of asthma in children who were taking part in three or more outdoor activities in communities with high levels of ozone.

Scientists following Yale University students determined that living just four years in a region with high levels of ozone and related co-pollutants, such as occur in our valley, had diminished lung function and frequent reports of respiratory symptoms.

A much larger study of 3,300 school children in Southern California found reduced lung function in girls with asthma and boys who spent more time outdoors in areas with high levels of ozone.

Ozone isn’t our only pollution problem. The Santa Clarita Valley also exceeds federal health standards for particulate pollution, at least in part because of all the grading from construction activities and the two freeways that run through this area.

These tiny particles of dirt and soot can lodge in the alveoli of the lungs and cause permanent damage.

A finding from the Southern California Children’s Health Study cited by the American Lung Association looked at the long-term effects of particle pollution on teenagers.
 
Tracking 1,759 children between ages 10 and 18, researchers found that those who grew up in more polluted areas face the increased risk of having underdeveloped lungs, which may never recover to their full capacity.

The average drop in lung function was 20-percent below what was expected for the child’s age, similar to the impact of growing up in a home with parents who smoked.

As summer approaches perhaps it is time for our local schools and sports organizations to monitor the EPA’s Air Now Web site and curtail youth sports activities on days when air pollution levels reach the “unhealthful” level for children.

As wonderful as team sports are for developing character in our children, these events are not worth the risk of permanently damaging their lungs and their health.

It is imperative that seniors, too, should be alerted of poor air quality days because of the critical ramifications to their health.

The quality of our air is affected by many public and private choices, from how City Hall plans and where school districts choose to place their schools to what kind of gas mileage I get in my personal choice of transportation.

Since I want to advocate for a cleaner and healthier Santa Clarita Valley in all these arenas, I have joined with other members of the medical profession to form Community Advocates for Healthcare, SCV.

It is time for the local medical profession to get involved to ensure we have a healthy environment in Santa Clarita.

Dr. Gene Dorio is a member of the Community Advocates for Healthcare, SCV. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentally minded writers. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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