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ASTHMA TIED TO DIESEL POLLUTION.

Byline: Nicholas Grudin Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - A new UCLA study on asthma indicates that diesel pollution could cause the respiratory disease, adding to Santa Clarita Valley residents' concerns that the region's poor air quality is a serious health hazard.

The report, which shows that diesel emissions cause asthma attacks in mice, comes as local residents struggle to cope with the nation's worst ozone pollution, another noted cause of asthma.

``Particulate matter (such as diesel) is being touted as one possible cause that contributes to asthma,'' said Dr. Andre Nel, a professor of medicine in the division of clinical immunology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

``Previously, we thought that air pollution alone was not enough to incite acute asthma attacks ... however, this new experimental study shows we need to pay closer attention to the intrinsic abilities of the air pollution particles to induce asthma.''

Although no direct connection has been drawn between human asthma and diesel, local doctors have seen a rise in reported asthma cases that coincides with the region's accelerated development and the accompanying increase in vehicle and diesel truck traffic.

With approximately 2.5 million diesel trucks traveling along the valley's freeways every year, and countless others traversing city streets serving the region's development and industry, diesel emissions are an environmental mainstay.

Therefore, local doctors and residents were not surprised to hear about Nel's discovery.

``There's no question that there has been an increase (in asthma cases), and every day I'll see three or four cases of kids who come in with wheezing and coughing,'' said Dr. Albert J. Melaragno, who has worked at the Valencia Pediatric Associates for 25 years.

Melaragno says that as the region grows and the air quality declines, asthma will become more prevalent. If left untreated, asthma in children can lead to chronic problems and even heart disease, Melaragno said.

``It's probably the single-most prominent new diagnosis that we're putting on charts,'' Melaragno said.

Cases of asthma have been on the rise throughout the nation, affecting 15 million to 20 million people, with the largest cases among school-age children.

Although Nel's study - published in the November issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology - does not draw a direct connection between human asthma and diesel pollution, he hopes that his model for testing diesel's affect on the respiratory systems of mice will help develop a similar test for humans.

``Diesel can produce an asthma-like response in mice. We still have to prove that the same is true in humans,'' Nel said.

But local environmentalists were quicker to jump to conclusions.

Environmentalists Teresa Savakie and Tom Barron have long argued that increased diesel truck traffic is threatening the health of the region's population.

``Trucking is a huge issue up in our area - the build-out of our valley is predicated on the increase in warehouse and manufacturing and our dependence on trucking for our own economy,'' Barron said.

``If I had the opportunity, I would leave this valley,'' Savakie said. ``My doctor is actually moving back to the San Fernando Valley because the congestion and the smog aren't as bad there.''

Nicholas Grudin, (661) 257-5255

nicholas.grudin(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Nov 12, 2003
Words:529
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