Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions affecting children today and a leading cause of morbidity. The Inland Southern California region is an area of great concern for air pollution and related respiratory health challenges for children; as it is the downwind recipient of the LA basin air pollution combined with its own increasing size of railyard facilities and major freeways in close proximity to an alarming number of elementary schools. One such elementary school, Ramona Alessandro, is located within only a few hundred yards from one of the busiest and dirtiest railyards in California, known as BNSF Railyard. Evidence is mounting on the adverse health effects in children related to proximity to roadways including: low birth weight, premature births, asthma occurrence, delayed lung development and functional deficits. Children with their developing respiratory systems are likely to experience increased exposure to pollutants and a greater risk of respiratory health problems. With funding from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) Loma Linda University has developed Project ENRRICH (Environmental Railyard Research Impacting Community Health) to assess the relationship between railyard-related environmental pollution and the prevalence of adverse health effects among nearby school children.
In partnership with the Breathmobile, a local mobile clinic specializing in respiratory health, and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), Project ENRRICH provided extensive schoolwide asthma screening at two San Bernardino County schools: Ramona Alessandro Elementary and a second comparison school located farther away. Asthma screening was offered to all children with parental consent and included non-invasive testing for airway inflammation by measuring FeNO with the NIOX device and estimated lung function with the Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) meter. The NIOX device has recently received FDA approval as a diagnostic tool for airway inflammation. Children screening high received immediate spirometry testing by the Breathmobile and were offered follow-up medical care. Additionally, data on self-reported clinical symptoms and adverse health outcomes was collected via questionnaires sent home to parents.
Over 1,000 children (participation rate 73%) from the two elementary schools were screened. Results from this screening will be presented shedding light on the potential linkage between goods movement corridor emissions and respiratory health for elementary school children in San Bernardino County.
As imports continue to skyrocket, especially into southern California’s sea and inland transportation facilities with expanding ports and rail lines, increasing numbers of schools will likely be affected, with the children experiencing adverse related health impacts. Research findings from our study should advance not only our understanding of the impact of busy railyards on the health and well being of children, but may also help lay the foundation for translational policy development toward risk reduction for this extremely vulnerable population.