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Cheektowaga residents worried that years of exposure to dust and sulfurous fumes from a neighborhood mining operation could be making them sick were told Thursday night that the air inside homes can be more hazardous than the air outdoors.

Indoor air pollution can be two to five times greater than that outside many homes, Dr. Jamson S. Lwebuga-Mukasa, director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure at Buffalo General Hospital, told more than 40 members of the Depew-Cheektowaga Taxpayers Association.

"You can have contaminants in the outside air, but the conditions inside can make them even worse," he said.

The taxpayers association met in the Bellevue Fire Hall on Como Park Boulevard, across the street from the Buffalo Crushed Stone quarry that some people suspect has at least partly contributed to seemingly high incidences of cancer and respiratory, thyroid and autoimmune diseases revealed by an informal health survey the association conducted last spring.

Lwebuga-Mukasa is heading up a scientific survey of respiratory diseases in a 2,000-home area around the busy quarry in south Cheektowaga in conjunction with the state Health Department, which reportedly is taking a look at the rates of cancer and other illnesses.

Lwebuga-Mukasa and members of his staff conducted breathing tests on more than 200 Bellevue-area residents during the past two weekends, while volunteers continue a door-to-door health survey. But he told residents Thursday that it is too early in the study for results.

Asthma is on the rise worldwide, especially in more urban areas, "so you're not alone," he said. Environmental pollutants, particularly from fossil fuels combustion, are considered to be a major reason, he said. Lwebuga-Mukasa noted that diseases that have been related to environmental exposure include lung cancer; childhood tumors, including lymphoma; chronic bronchitis and asthma; lung fibrosis; premature death from heart disease; and thyroid disease.

Studies have shown a link between respiratory ailments in children and their proximity to vehicle exhaust fumes, the doctor said. Noting that air pollution inhibits lung development in children, he cited a study of college students in the Los Angeles area that found that they had smaller lungs than students in less urban regions of the country.

But Lwebuga-Mukasa, also an associate professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, focused mostly on indoor air pollution -- from mildew, dust mites, insect waste and tobacco smoke to household cleaning agents and personal-care products, improperly maintained heating and cooling systems, cabinets and furniture made of pressed wood, and high temperature and high humidity in the home.

Nationally, indoor air pollution kills 3,500 to 6,000 people a year and either causes or aggravates half of all illnesses, he said. The average six-room home collects 40 pounds of dust in a year, he added.

"Carpeting can act as a sink and subsequent source for the slow release of indoor pollutants," he said.

"People with humidifiers have twice the (respiratory) problems of those without, or with dehumidifiers," Lwebuga-Mukasa told the crowd. He also advised his listeners to "avoid wood stoves and fireplaces."

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