Breathing Made Easier: LaMattina, Arroyo Seek to Make Air Filled with Less Polluting Emissions

Construction is an part of life in the big city but City Councilors Sal LaMattina and Felix Arroyo think the polluting emissions from construction vehicles don’t have to be part of life in East Boston.

As part of the duo’s City Council Committee on Asthma, LaMattina and Arroyo held a hearing to discuss clean construction and diesel emission reduction.

“Diesel exhausts particle pollution is a clear and present health risk to the residents of Boston,” said LaMattina.

While the order for a hearing, explained Arroyo, is a part of his and LaMattina’s asthma agenda to reduce alarming asthma rates in the city.

Speakers at the hearing included representatives from Alternatives for Community and EnvironmetClean Water Action, City of Boston Environment Department, the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Building Trades Council.

Ultra fine particulate matter (PM) from exhaust has been shown to cause a wide array of adverse health impacts.

The large number of deaths and other health problems associated with particulate pollution was first demonstrated in the early 1970s and has been reproduced many times since. PM pollution is estimated to cause 22,000-52,000 deaths per year in the United States and 200,000 deaths per year in Europe.

The effects of inhaling particulate matter that have been widely studied in humans and animals now include asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, birth defects, and premature death. The size of the particle is a main determinant of where in the respiratory tract the particle will come to rest when inhaled. Because of their small size, particles on the order of 10 micrometers or less (PM10) can penetrate the deepest part of the lungs such as the bronchioles or alveoli. Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat via cilia and mucus, but particulate matter smaller than about 10 micrometers, PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause health problems.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that inhaling PM2.5 leads to high plaque deposits in the arteries causing cardiovascular problems.  Researchers suggest that even short-term exposure at elevated concentrations could significantly contribute to heart disease and concluded that traffic exhaust is the single most serious preventable cause of heart attack in the general public and is the cause of 7.4 percent of all heart attacks in the world.

LaMattina and Arroyo began the committee on asthma last year. Both LaMattina and Arroyo are lifelong asthma suffers and have been busy introducing a series of hearing orders at Council meetings aimed at battling alarming rates of asthma in the city.

“Being a life-long asthmatic, asthma is personal to me,” said Arroyo. “As a child, I spent so many nights at the emergency room at Faulkner Hospital that I knew the staff by first name.  However, my story is not particular to me.  It is a story that is all too common in our City.”

According to the City of Boston Public Health Commission’s Health of Boston 2010 Report, 10 percent of adults and 11 percent of high school students have asthma. Children under the age of five are four times more likely to be hospitalized because of asthma.  Children’s Hospital Boston reported asthma as the leading rate of hospitalizations.

The hearing orders were crafted by the Asthma Task Force that Arroyo and LaMattina created to identify key asthma issues the two plan to address in 2011-2012.  As a result of these meetings, the hearing orders concentrate on usage of green cleaning supplies in all municipal buildings, integrated pest management, smoke-free public housing, and reducing truck emissions on construction sites.

“I look forward to continuing our work with Councilor Arroyo on the Committee and the Asthma Task Force,” said LaMattina. “We are using the research gathered from 2010 to recommend a plan of action so young Bostonians will not have to suffer the health troubles associated with this condition.”

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