Asthma epidemic at Pittsburgh elementary school linked to pollution from nearby coke plant

According to a report, the Clairton Coke Works Plant in Pennsylvania has been linked to an alarming “asthma epidemic” at an elementary school in Pittsburgh.

Researchers revealed that constant toxic pollution, coming from a neighboring coke plant, is the major cause of the almost doubled asthma rates of children at an elementary school. Clairton Elementary School in Clairton, Pennsylvania, is located 15 miles south of Pittsburgh. The city is also the headquarters of U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, the biggest coke plant in the country.

A group of researchers tested 213 children from Clairton Elementary School. Results revealed that 18.4 percent of them had asthma. Dr. Deborah Gentile, a pediatrician in Pittsburgh and a member of the Pediatric Alliance, explains that this is a cause for concern since the figure is higher than the usual nine to ten percent. Dr. Gentile also spearheaded the research.

In Pennsylvania, at least 10 percent of children develop asthma. It’s worth noting that the testing by the researchers was the first asthma diagnosis for 15 percent of the children with asthma. This means the students’ asthma has been untreated so far. Poor and black children in Clairton are at higher risk of developing the disease. According to state data, 19.3 percent of black children in the state have asthma. (Related: Sudden and rapid increases in pollution found to be as damaging to the heart as sustained levels.)

The authors of the report said that both the rates of childhood asthma and poorly controlled asthma in young Clairton students are “alarming and unacceptable.”

Dr. Gentile said that at least 64 percent of the children had asthma that was “poorly controlled,” meaning they weren’t receiving adequate medicine that helps control (but doesn’t cure) the disease.

In Pennsylvania, at least 27 percent of children have uncontrolled asthma. The findings in Clairton were part of a bigger statewide study that looked into asthma prevalence in 1,200 schoolchildren who resided or studied near industrial sites bordering Pittsburgh.

Dr. Gentile reported the overall findings last fall. About 22.5 percent of the students had asthma, and at least 39 percent of the children were exposed to hazardous levels of outdoor air pollution.

Based on the findings, the Clairton Coke Works Plant in the city was a primary polluter. The plant was also the reason for “excessive respiratory problems” among the students. Dr. Gentile noted that “while factors such as “economics, race, and smoking” don’t seem to cause [asthma], air pollution does.” She added that this shouldn’t be surprising because many students live on the fence-line of the coke plant.

The children from Clairton Elementary School live at least one mile away from the plant, with at least a quarter of the students located downwind from the air pollution. The Allegheny County Health Department reported that the plant had about a whopping 6,700 air pollution violations from 2012 to 2015. Two of the main pollutants found near the plant, small particulate matter (PM2.5) and black carbon, are notorious asthma triggers.

Per the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, the state of Pittsburgh is the 27th “most challenging” city to live in with asthma, mostly because of high levels of air pollution.

How to prevent air pollution at home

To minimize air pollution in your home, follow the tips below:

  • Don’t smoke indoors.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Ensure that your gas stove is well-ventilated.
  • Have car emissions tested regularly.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Refrain from installing carpeting.
  • Test your home for radon
  • Use a dehumidifier and/or air conditioner to minimize moisture.

You can read more articles on how to minimize air pollution at

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