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Asthma rates spur calls for testing of air quality near Peace Bridge

When hundreds of students from School 3 D'Youville Porter Campus were asked this week how many had asthma, about a third raised their hands.

That reflected the high asthma rates in the community, as the Clean Air Coalition of WNY continued to call for air monitoring in the Lower West Side.

"The proportion of kids with asthma is staggering," said Karen Arrison of the Clement and Karen Arrison Charitable Foundation, and a member of the group, minutes after she asked the children to give a show of hands.

"[The families] have no voice because they can't afford representation. Our area doesn't really know how dangerous the diesel emissions are, and until or unless we know that, we can't cope with this problem," Arrison said.

The elementary and middle school students played dodge ball, listened to nature demonstrations and jumped around in bounce houses during Field Day activities Wednesday in Front Park, as diesel trucks passed behind the playground. Some were outfitted to test for exposure to particulate matter as they played.

The Clean Air Coalition, which conducted the testing and will send it out for professional evaluation, is concerned about the effects that the 4,000 trucks that cross the bridge on an average day, and the frequent idling that occurs, may have on Lower West Side residents.

The group released test results conducted last summer, in which a number of harmful pollutants -- including acetone, styrene, trimethylbenzenes and trichloroethane -- exceeded EPA levels on a given day.

Members called on state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to approve ongoing testing at several locations, and were joined by Council Member David Rivera.

"We want to be sure the air is safe for all, particularly you who go to school at No. 3, because you're so close to the Peace Bridge, to the 190 and to a lot of truck traffic," Rivera said.

He and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, also have written to the DEC asking for strict enforcement of existing truck idling regulations at the Peace Bridge.

"There is no reason that the DEC cannot simply enforce the law and ensure that trucks are not idling at the Peace Bridge. The link between respiratory illness among West Side residents and their close proximity to thousands of idling trucks cannot be ignored," Ryan said.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization's cancer department said in an unanimous opinion that diesel exhaust fumes cause lung cancer and could increase risk of bladder cancer, elevating diesel exhaust from the "probable carcinogen" level to the more serious "known carcinogen" category.