New Report Shows Elevated Health Risks from Diesel Engine Pollution in Illinois

Most Heavily Impacted Areas Bear Disproportionate Health Burden

CHICAGO – As rising summer-like temperatures lead to worsening air quality, a new Respiratory Health Association (RHA) report details how harmful pollution from diesel engine exhaust is making the air unhealthy for Illinois residents to breathe. The report, which references data and projections from the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), shows that exhaust from diesel engines will lead to more than 5,000 asthma attacks, nearly 200 heart attacks, and 416 premature deaths across the state in 2023 alone.

“The number of people directly impacted by diesel pollution in Illinois is already staggering,” noted Brian Urbaszewski, RHA’s director of environmental health programs. “It’s even more alarming when you see these pollution levels are 21 percent higher than the national average. While Illinois residents comprise 3.8 percent of the U.S. population, the 416 projected deaths in 2023 represent 4.7 percent of total projected deaths nationally.”

The report breaks out health data at the county level for the top 12 counties in Illinois. All are in the top nine percent of counties nationwide for diesel exhaust exposure. The so-called “Dirty Dozen” counties include Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane, Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Dekalb, Madison and Iroquois. Collectively these counties include 64 percent of Illinois’ population, but see 77 percent of the premature deaths, and 80 to 83 percent of the harmful health effects from residents breathing diesel exhaust.

“The figures in this report are additionally concerning as Illinois’s freight industry and truck production continue to grow – affecting everyone’s breathing, but especially more vulnerable people living in predominantly low-income minority communities near diesel engine magnets,” Urbaszewski continued. “With zero-emission trucks already being built here in Illinois, we need to make sure that clean, non-polluting vehicles stay in Illinois rather than just be exported to other states.”

The report’s release comes one year after the Illinois General Assembly urged Gov. Pritzker to join an agreement with 17 other states promising to increase the number of zero-emission trucks sold in coming years (House Resolution 296, Senate Resolution 293). Known as the Multi-State Medium- and HeavyDuty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, the states that have signed on pledged that 30 percent of new large trucks and buses sold in 2030 will be zero-emission, and that 100 percent of those vehicles sold would be zero-emission by 2050. To date, the Governor has yet to commit Illinois to this agreement.

The health impacts presented in the study are solely due to fine particulate matter exposure, which are particles small enough to reach deep into a person’s lungs and bloodstream. While the report looks at pollution exposure at the county level, people who live, work, or go to school closer to places with higher diesel exhaust concentrations, like near highways or freight facilities, are also more likely to have health impacts due to this pollution no matter where they live in Illinois.

###

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit resphealth.org.

Media inquiries:

Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs

[email protected]

New Study Reveals Widening Racial Gaps Among Chicago Children with Asthma

Young boy taking an inhaler with a spacer or holding chamber attached

Black children are more than four times as likely to end up in a hospital emergency room due to asthma than white children, according to latest data.

Chicago has long been known as an epicenter for asthma, with higher rates of the disease in minority communities on the city’s south and west sides. A new report examining data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) shows little progress in addressing these disparities, with even more troubling trends among children.

The report, released today by Respiratory Health Association (RHA), focuses on the rates of asthma-related emergency department (ED) visits from 2016 to 2021, and follows up on a report released in 2018. It documents increasing racial health disparities among Chicago children.

Between 2016 and 2021, there were 23,550 asthma-related ED visits among Chicago children 19 years old and younger. Most of those visits, 70% (16,436), were among school age children 5-19 years. In total, Black children accounted for 53% of these 16,436 asthma-related ED visits. In children 4 years old and younger, 40% of visits were by Black children.

“Every child should have the same opportunity to breathe easy, and it’s clear we need to do more to understand and address the disparities,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It’s unfair these kids have to miss out on time with classmates and friends – and fall behind – just because of their asthma.”

While disparities in asthma-related ED visits exist across all races, the greatest gaps are between Black and white children – and that gap increased during the latest reporting period. As of 2021, Black children ages 5 to 19 years old were 4.3 times more likely to have an asthma-related ED visit than white children. This is a 9% increase from the gap previously reported in 2016.

Additionally, there were 3,148 ambulance visits to schools for asthma-related emergencies where race was documented. In these cases, 84% of students requiring an ED visit were Black. Notably, just 36% of Chicago Public School students are Black.

Having an inhaler on hand in school is important for kids with asthma.

“Unfortunately, many Chicago area kids are feeling some of the worst effects from asthma,” noted Erica Salem, Senior Director, Strategy, Programs and Policy at RHA. “It’s crucial to support more research into these racial disparities and expand community- and school-based asthma programming. With the City of Chicago aiming to eliminate racial health disparities, an investment in asthma is long overdue.”

The report’s release comes during Asthma Awareness Month, observed every May to help people learn about the disease and discuss ways to control it. A combination of asthma education and proper treatment have been shown to help kids manage their asthma and live well.

You can read RHA’s full report on childhood asthma disparities in Chicago here.

Respiratory Health Association Hosts 25th Annual Hustle Chicago® Charity Stair Climb

The Hustle Chicago Event will raise funds for lung health and clean air programs throughout the Chicago area and across Illinois

Chicago, IL – May 5, 2022 – More than 900 people will make their way to Soldier Field Sunday, May 15 to support lung health and clean air programs. Hustle Chicago® charity stair climb, formerly known as Hustle Up the Hancock, returns outdoors for a second year while celebrating 25 years of making a difference in the fight against lung disease.

“We are excited to celebrate a milestone year for Hustle, a Chicago tradition that has raised over $22 million for Respiratory Health Association since 1998,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer. “These funds support educational programs that help people living with diseases like asthma and COPD, research into new treatments for lung cancer, and efforts to reduce air pollution in our communities.”

Participants in the climb come from all walks of life and many are personally impacted by lung disease, including Maureen Campbell, a resident of La Grange. Maureen was inspired by her mother’s fight against lung cancer to climb her first Hustle in 2018.

“Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer and the least funded,” says Campbell, who is climbing at her fifth Hustle this year. “I’m still angry that this horrible disease took my mom. She did everything right. I’m fueled by a desire to help people living with lung disease and for more research that can save lives.”

Climbers at Soldier Field will take the stairs in the stadium’s upper level, looping around as many times as they can in 20-minute waves. Each stairway is approximately 104-110 steps, and 7-8 full loops would equal the 1,632 stairs taken at Hustle’s traditional venue, 875 N. Michigan Ave. Climbers and guests will also enjoy a post-climb party under the stadium’s historic columns.

“More than two million people in Illinois live with lung disease, and many more have not yet been diagnosed,” continued Africk. “The Hustle Chicago® stair climb is a great opportunity for people to enjoy a unique venue, get some exercise, and most importantly make an impact on people living with lung disease. It’s always remarkable to see climbers dedicate their time and energy this way.”

People can still support this year’s event by signing up as a virtual climber or by donating to a participant’s fundraising campaign. Learn more at resphealth.org/hustle.

###

About Respiratory Health Association 
A public health leader since 1906, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is dedicated to its mission of preventing lung disease, promoting clean air and helping people live better lives through education, research and policy change. To achieve that goal, RHA collaborates with researchers in pursuit of new treatments and cures for disease like asthma, COPD and lung cancer; empowers adults and children by teaching them skills to manage their health; delivers evidence-based tobacco cessation programs; and works with lawmakers to craft innovative policies that build a more equitable and sustainable future. Learn more at resphealth.org.

COPD and the Benefits of Proper Inhaler Use

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of chronic lung diseases, including emphysema and bronchitis, that block airflow in the lungs. Damaged lungs and mucus buildup make it hard for the lungs to spread oxygen to the rest of the body, which makes breathing difficult for people living with COPD. While there is no cure for COPD, it can be managed. One way to manage it is by controlling symptoms through medications.

Inhalers and inhalation therapies are the primary medication treatments for COPD. Medications help treat symptoms, control complications, reduce flare-ups, and increase the time between flare-ups (i). However, these benefits can only be reached when the inhaler device is used correctly. Incorrect inhaler use can occur in nearly 50% of cases (i) and can be attributed to several factors:

  • Patient characteristics (cognitive condition, self-efficacy, co-morbidities)
  • Social factors (provider-patient relationship, access, support, training, follow-up)
  • Medication treatment (device, methods, dosing, side effects) (i)

These factors, combined or by themselves, can lead to critical errors of inhaler use.  Common errors include:

  • Not inhaling through the device
  • Blowing on a device that has a powder ready to be inhaled
  • Insufficient inhalation duration or force
  • Not holding the device correctly (ii)

When a patient misuses his or her inhaler, medication can’t be delivered properly and minimizes the benefits. When a medication is not used to achieve full benefits, patients may feel that it’s not working and stop using it. This non-adherence can then lead to flare-ups, worsening symptoms, and even hospitalizations (iii).

There are several strategies that can help improve and achieve correct inhaler use. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about how to correctly use the prescribed inhaler. At your next medical appointment, be sure to bring the inhaler and show your provider how you use it. This allows your provider to correct any mistakes and gives you the opportunity to ask any questions. There are many types of inhaler devices, so be honest about your lifestyle when speaking with you provider. They’ll be able to prescribe a device that suits your needs and lifestyle.

It may be a good idea to create and maintain a routine to ensure you stick to your dosing schedule. While inhalers may not fit in regular pillboxes, they can be stored next to them or in view of other medications. It’s important to continue using your prescribed medications even if you start feeling better. Always consult your provider before stopping any medication use. (iv)

Medications are essential to managing a COPD diagnosis. Correct inhaler techniques, honest conversations with healthcare professionals, and adhering to medication routines can help you live better with COPD.

Citations:

  • i Jardim, J. R., & Nascimento, O. A. (2019, April 1). The importance of inhaler adherence to prevent COPD exacerbations. Medical sciences (Basel, Switzerland). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6524014/#:~:text=Poor%20adherence%20to%20asthma%20treatment,outco mes%20for%20patients%2C%20and%20reducing 
  • ii Price, D., Bosnic-Anticevich, S., Briggs, A., Chrystyn, H., Rand, C., Scheuch, G., & Bousquet, J. (2012, October 23). Inhaler competence in asthma: Common errors, barriers to use and recommended solutions. Respiratory Medicine. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0954611112003587 
  • iii Schreiber, J., Sonnenburg, T., & Luecke, E. (2020, August 20). Inhaler devices in asthma and COPD patients – a prospective cross-sectional study on inhaler preferences and error rates – BMC Pulmonary Medicine. BMC Pulmonary Medicine. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://bmcpulmmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12890-020-01246-z 
  • iv George, M. (2018, June 1). Adherence in asthma and COPD: New strategies for an old problem. American Association for Respiratory Care. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/63/6/818  

FDA’s Proposed Rules to Prohibit Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars Will Protect Lung Health

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed product standards that ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars. The decision comes as the result of a citizen complaint filed by public health organizations and over a decade of advocacy efforts.

“Respiratory Health Association applauds the FDA’s decision to move forward with greater regulation of these harmful tobacco products,” commented Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer. “We continue to fight to reduce the burden of tobacco-related lung illnesses in our communities and believe removing menthol products from store shelves is the right thing to do.”

The less harsh, mint-like flavoring of menthol products makes them easier to smoke and often appeals to younger or new smokers. Additionally, tobacco companies have historically marketed these products to teens and in minority communities. Studies have shown as many as 70% of teen smokers use menthol cigarettes. Of Black smokers, nearly 85% smoke menthol cigarettes compared to 30% of all white smokers – contributing to health disparities including risk for lung disease. In total, an estimated 18.6 million current smokers use menthol cigarettes.

“Big Tobacco – a multi-billion-dollar industry – has long used menthol flavoring to target new smokers and minority communities,” continued Africk. “The FDA’s move will prevent a new generation of smokers, help address significant lung health inequities, and save lives.”

The FDA’s rules also offer protections to consumers, as enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. RHA looks forward to President Biden’s administration finalizing these new rules – and helping implement a policy that focuses on improving lung health and holding the tobacco industry accountable instead of criminalizing individual use of these products.

For media inquiries, please contact Joe Siebelts at [email protected] or (312) 628-0204.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies.