Why we need to clean up diesel: asthma

Registered nurse Helen Rodman and her team at the Multnomah County Healthy Homes Asthma Program work with low-income families to help them manage childhood asthma. They have a kit of practical tools to reduce asthma triggers in the home: mold and dust mites, pests and harsh cleaning chemicals. But when it comes to outdoor air pollution like diesel exhaust, they don’t have a tool to fix that problem.

“I can tell you that the people I work with often live next to freeways,” says Helen. “And I can tell you that if you look at a map of asthma rates, you’ll see that they are higher next to major roadways. But parents don’t bring it up, and neither do I.”

The reality is, these families have enough to worry about. In her six years as an asthma education nurse, Helen has seen families become increasingly desperate about economic and housing stability. “Imagine taking two or three buses to get to a doctor’s appointment or pick up a prescription, after being up all night with a coughing child. The stress is unbelievable.” And with lost work and school from bouts of uncontrolled asthma, life is all the more unstable.


Health effects from diesel exhaust

We all likely know someone with asthma. It is one of the most common chronic diseases in Oregon’s children. But it’s no surprise that asthma is more prevalent in low-income families. Stress, poor housing conditions, and lack of access to health care all contribute to the problem. And when the problems pile up, children are even more vulnerable to a wider range of triggers—including diesel pollution.

Helen and her team do amazing work, and they’ve seen families achieve great results through medication management and home health improvements. But they also need an action plan for asthma emergencies.
Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 7.48.55 AMStudies show that Oregon could avoid 119 asthma emergency room visits for children each year by reducing harmful diesel exhaust. That could add up to millions in savings in public dollars. See more in our Dirt on Diesel report.

Pollen and weather are facts of life. There will always be dust mites and pet dander. We can’t eliminate all asthma triggers. But if we can control things like diesel pollution, we give the Multnomah County Healthy Homes Asthma program and others like it a chance to work.

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