Residents Living Near Most-Heavily Traveled Border Crossing Four Times More Likely to Suffer from Asthma

UB researchers say transportation policies have major public health impact

Release Date: October 4, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Increased truck traffic at the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing in the Eastern U.S. is contributing to a clustering of asthma cases among residents who live nearby, according to University at Buffalo researchers.

A recent UB study shows that residents of neighborhoods located within one-third of a mile of the Peace Bridge in Buffalo are four times more likely to suffer from asthma than those who live more than about 1.25 miles away.

The study, published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health, is the first to document how living near the Peace Bridge and the major roadways that feed it affects residents.

The researchers say that these findings, which corroborate research from other groups as well as their own, underscore the fact that public health should be considered when transportation policies are made.

"Transportation decisions need to include health considerations," said Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa, M.D., co-author of the paper, associate professor of medicine in UB's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and director of UB's Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure.

Tonny Oyana, Ph.D., formerly a doctoral student in the Department of Geography in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, and Peter Rogerson, Ph.D., UB professor of geography, are co-authors.

"Our findings are especially relevant since the volume of commercial traffic at this border crossing point will quadruple by the year 2020," Lwebuga-Mukasa said, referring to the plans to expand the Peace Bridge Complex to accommodate more commercial traffic.

Lwebuga-Mukasa noted that while public debate in the community over how to expand the bridge

has focused on the displacement of neighborhoods and on the design of the bridge itself, the health impact of an expansion has been largely overlooked.

"There is a human experiment unfolding in front of us," he said. "We are taking people who are already negatively impacted and we are going to make matters worse."

Lwebuga-Mukasa added that increases in the prevalence and morbidity of asthma have been greatest in countries where there is more dependence on diesel fuel, which is used by trucks.

"This study supports other evidence that traffic, and truck traffic in particular, may contribute to a raised incidence or likelihood of asthma," said Rogerson.

According to the UB study, patients living along Niagara Street, Seneca Street and Interstate 190, which are feeder roads for the Peace Bridge, and therefore carry truck traffic, had increased odds of having asthma, while those living along routes that carry mostly automobile traffic, did not.

The study is a case-control study, where a population that has already been diagnosed with a disease -- in this case, asthma -- is compared with a population that does not have it.

The UB researchers gathered hospitalization data from Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo data on two groups of patients between 1996 and 2000:

-- 3,700 patients who came to the hospital on an in-patient or out-patient basis because of asthma

-- 4,000 "controls" who came to the hospital on an in-patient or out-patient basis for a condition completely unrelated to respiratory disease: gastroenteritis.

The authors then used geographic information science (GIS) tools to conduct spatial analysis of hospitalization data.

The UB researchers acknowledge that because they were dealing only with hospitalization data, the study does not take into account other possible factors for the prevalence of asthma, such as exposure to indoor pollutants, age of housing and occupational exposures.

Lwebuga-Mukasa added that if the research community can find ways to mitigate truck-related pollutants, it will have dividends not just for Buffalo but for other communities struggling with the same phenomenon.

The UB researchers are embarking on collaborations with scientists from Columbia University and the Harvard School of Public Health, in an effort to find ways to do that.

The research was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Troup Fund, Kaleida Health Foundations.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

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