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Expanding on past reports showing elevated asthma rates among residents living near the Peace Bridge, Buffalo General's Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure is launching a major study to examine the respiratory health of residents living near all four of the region's international bridges.

The findings could play a major role in pressuring U.S. and Canadian bridge officials to improve the processing of bridge traffic and minimize pollution caused by idling trucks, said Rep. John LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda.

LaFalce stood near the Peace Bridge toll booths in cold and blustery weather Friday to announce funding for the study. He handed a symbolic $213,000 check to Dr. Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa, director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure.

"These studies can be extremely helpful for us . . . in all public policy decisions," LaFalce said.

The money, derived from a federal Centers for Disease Control grant, will be spent on a six-month study that will test about 10 percent of the population living near the Peace Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, Lwebuga-Mukasa said.

LaFalce said he expects the study's results will be incorporated into the Peace Bridge Authority's environmental impact study.

Previous studies done by the center showed that asthma rates on the West Side were twice the national average.

Even after adjusting the studies for smokers and pet owners, Lwebuga-Mukasa said, pollution from the thousands of diesel trucks that cross and idle at the Peace Bridge had to be considered a factor in causing millions of dollars in health-related costs.

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