New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

For Immediate Release

September 11, 2020


Brian Urbaszewski

[email protected]


New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

Data Highlight Urgent Need for Electrification Across City’s Fleet

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) released findings of a year-long study indicating higher rates of asthma and COPD near several bus routes and garage locations across the city of Chicago. The study, which referenced data from Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to examine lung disease prevalence in relation to Chicago’s bus routes.

The report analyzed 125 permanent CTA bus routes, classifying seven routes with an average of at least 20,000 riders per day and covering at least seven miles as high-traffic routes. Researchers found residents living within 500 meters (about 1600 feet) of these routes had asthma rates of 11.08%, which is 8.4% greater than the overall city rate. Those living within 500 meters of these routes had a 6.69% COPD rate, 10.6% higher than overall rate across the city. Additionally, residents living closest to any of the CTA’s seven bus garages had asthma rates more than 12% greater than the citywide average and COPD rates 23.6% greater than the citywide average.

“We already know that the air pollution produced by vehicles, including the diesel-powered buses which make up most of the CTA’s current fleet, is dangerous for people’s lungs,” commented Joel Africk, RHA President and Chief Executive Officer. “The higher rates of asthma and COPD along those busy routes – where residents are some of the most vulnerable in the city – show how important it is to replace diesel buses with electric models to improve air quality and protect everyone’s health.”

The report includes recommendations for priority routes to place electric vehicles as well as potential funding sources to support needed infrastructure. It was provided to CTA officials as part of its ongoing strategic planning efforts, which also include plans to reduce pollution produced by city transit vehicles. In 2019, Mayor Lightfoot’s transition team endorsed a goal of fully electrifying the CTA bus fleet and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution supporting complete electrification of CTA by 2040.

“Identifying socially vulnerable areas at greater risk of pollution exposure remains an important area of future research in the work of environmental justice and reducing health disparities,” noted Marynia Kolak, Assistant Director for Health Informatics at the Center for Spatial Data Science. “While these associations are complex, reducing the transit dimension of traffic pollution via electrification is a critical need for the city.”

“Federal, state, and local elected officials need to dedicate the resources needed for the Chicago Transit Authority to accelerate the city’s transition to electric buses,” Africk continued, “so residents – especially those living with lung disease – can enjoy the important health benefits cleaner transportation provides.”


 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

Flu Shot is a Gift for Your Lungs

Vaccines are a safe and important part of medical care for everyone. Regular immunizations prevent common bugs like the flu and limit the spread of disease through our communities. For people living with lung disease, a flu shot is especially important. Someone with asthma or COPD:

  • Has a greater risk of catching common infections like the flu
  • May feel added effects from flu symptoms
  • Is more likely to develop pneumonia or other lung problems

This year, getting a flu shot is more important than ever. The CDC estimates less than half of adults get an annual flu shot.  COVID-19 continues to spread, and we do not yet have a vaccine to prevent infection. While a flu vaccine cannot prevent you from getting COVID-19, it can help you avoid the flu so your immune system is better able to cope with other illnesses. It also reduces your risk of hospitalization and possibly developing more severe illness, and further adding to the burden on our health care facilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports flu shots may lower the risk of getting sick by 40 to 60 percent. It also helps those who cannot receive a shot, including children under 6 months old. Additionally, the CDC typically recommends a one-time pneumonia shot for those who live with lung disease.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and a great time to talk with your doctor about ways to stay healthy going into peak flu season. Flu cases are most common in the fall and winter, especially between December and February. Ask if you are up-to-date on past vaccines and to get an annual flu shot. Are you concerned about visiting a facility as COVID-19 continues to spread? Talk to your doctor about ways to stay safe.

If you or loved ones are displaying flu symptoms (fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, and possibly other symptoms, such as body aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) please stay home. Remember to wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough, and promptly contact your health care provider.

Additional Resources

If you do not have a regular doctor or healthcare provider, or have other questions, there are a number of local and national resources to help:

Living With COPD As Reopening Begins

The lifting of stay-at-home orders, while a positive sign, presents special risks for people living with chronic lung disease.  As places are reopening and people begin mixing with family members and friends who are no longer practicing social distancing, people living with COPD need to make sure they stay healthy and avoid exposure to the novel coronavirus.

People with chronic lung disease and other vulnerable conditions and members of their households should still keep in mind ways to remain safe and healthy when stay-at-home orders are lifted. Here are some important tips for continuing to protect yourself:

  • Try to limit trips out in public (e.g., make one big grocery trip every two weeks rather than going more frequently).
  • Continue to wear a cloth mask or face covering in public if it does not restrict your breathing
  • Avoid touching your face and wash your hands often while in public. Wash your hands as soon as you can when you are back at home.
  • Wear an outer layer of clothing (like a jacket or sweater) that you can take off and leave by the door as soon as you get home. This will minimize any germs brought into the house.
  • Try to limit visits with people outside of your household, including friends and grandchildren.
  • Continue social distancing. Social distancing does not mean social isolation.  You can connect with loved ones virtually or write letters and send via mail.  Or you can visit in your yard or a park where you can remain six feet away from guests.
  • Help your family and friends understand why it is important that you are not exposed. Remind them that people with the virus are actually contagious for several days before they show any symptoms. This is what makes the coronavirus so contagious.
  • When outside of your home, continue to practice physical distancing (staying at least six feet away from others). Limit time spent in crowded environments.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

At this time, we do not know when in-person pulmonary rehabilitation programs will resume.  Pulmonary rehabilitation facilities present special risks because of the number of participants who are considered at-risk for severe COVID-19. They are also close quarters in which many groups operate, which makes social distancing difficult to achieve.  Call your healthcare provider or pulmonary rehabilitation leader to learn what their plans.  For recommendations of exercises that can be done at home, please click here to get a list of exercises and additional resources.

Guidance on Caring for Children & Social Distancing

As family and friends start going back to work, they may ask you to watch grandchildren or other children. Currently, the CDC and AARP recommend that older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions continue to physically distance themselves from children who do not live in their households.

If asked to care for children who do not live in your household, you can do so in ways that reduce your risk of getting sick. These include ensuring the children have limited contact with other people outside their households. Make sure they practice good hygiene (washing hands, wearing a mask while out, etc.). If someone with COPD (or another high risk condition) is taking care of a child who is sick, consider social distancing within the house. Have that child wear a cloth mask in the house to prevent the spread of the virus to others.

If you would like to receive more information for people living with COPD, please click here.

Khalilah Gates, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Medical Education, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine edited this content.

Protect Your Lungs While Staying Home During COVID-19

As people spend more time inside during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important to recognize and reduce sources of pollution in your own home. Indoor air quality varies, but is often worse than outdoor air quality. However, you can improve the air quality in your home by reducing lung irritants generated indoors. Following some basic guidelines in your day-to-day routines can improve the health of those in your home who live with asthma and other lung diseases.


gas stove can worsen indoor air quality

Gas stoves can increase indoor air pollution in your home if not properly ventilated.

People are cooking at home more often during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cooking creates moisture, which feeds mold and mildew growth – a common trigger for those living with asthma. It also exposes you to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, particularly from gas stoves. Nitrogen dioxide is known to worsen asthma and COPD symptoms. Using a stove fan that vents to the outside can reduce pollution from cooking by 75 percent. Opening windows while cooking can also help keep the air in your home clean.


With people home more often, your bathroom and shower may be used more. Moisture from showers can lead to mold and mildew growth, which may affect the lungs of people living with asthma. Use the bathroom fan to vent extra moisture to the outside. If you haven’t checked your fan lately, now is a good time. Remove any dust and dirt from the fan grill to keep it working properly. If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan, open a window if possible.


Regularly cleaning surfaces in your home is a good practice, and can also help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Taking some precautions when cleaning can help reduce the amount of indoor pollution created. If you are cleaning with chemical solutions, try to open windows vent fumes from your space. Additionally, you should never combine ammonia and chlorine bleach cleaners. This can produce a toxic gas which could be dangerous, and especially those who live with asthma. If possible, use a vacuum cleaner, which limits dust levels in the air. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends removing your shoes when you enter your home, as they can bring in additional dirt, dust and germs.

Other Daily Activities

A number of other daily activities and products can worsen indoor air quality. Nail polish, candles and paint are just a few examples of products that can affect lungs, especially those of people living with lung disease. Open windows to circulate air in your home, or use these products outside if possible to protect those in your home living with asthma.


Anyone in your home who smokes should do so outside, as smoke and vapor from tobacco and e-cigarette products can be especially irritating to the lungs of someone living with asthma. Also, if you live in multi-unit housing, be aware that some of your neighbors may be struggling at this time and their conditions could worsen from second hand smoke. If you are thinking about quitting, there are a number of resources to help you here.

Reduced activity outside the home has generally helped improve outdoor air quality. However, if you live near pollution sources like industrial facilities or major roadways, you may still risk contact with potentially harmful air pollution. Those living with asthma may also be sensitive to outdoor allergies. In these situations, opening windows is still a good option to ventilate your home. However, consider limiting the amount of time you leave them open. If opening windows is not possible, air filters may be another option to keep good air quality in your home. You should only use devices certified by a trusted source, as some filters use ionizing technology which can produce harmful gas inside your home. You can view a list of filters certified as safe here.

Download and Share Our Fact Sheet

You Can Do Pulmonary Rehab at Home

While at no greater risk of getting sick with COVID-19, people with lung diseases like COPD are at higher risk for becoming seriously ill if they do become infected. Continuing your respiratory therapy is an important way to stay healthy. As many pulmonary groups are suspending programs during this outbreak, we do not want social distancing to stop you from getting the exercise you need! There are a number of ways you can continue your pulmonary rehab at home.

We put together a number of resources to keep you moving in your own home. We encourage you to talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about what exercises or activity will work best for you.

Download Fact Sheet: Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Home 

pulmonary rehab exercises


Video: Daily Pulmonary Rehab at Home Exercises

Developed by the University Health Network

We recognize the COVID-19 outbreak may be stressful for some people. One of the best things people can do to support themselves is to take
care of their bodies whether that be through regular exercise, meditation, or healthy eating.

Coronavirus and COPD: What You Should Know

It is important those living with COPD and their caregivers are well-informed about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and take proper steps to minimize the risk of infection. Since developments are fast-breaking, continue to follow trusted news sources or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness in people. Human coronaviruses are not new — they are common throughout the world and typically cause mild to moderate illnesses. The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory virus first identified in December 2019 as the cause of an outbreak in China. COVID-19 is likely more highly contagious than other highly contagious coronavirus strains such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

People with underlying health conditions, including COPD, are at no greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 than others; however, they are more likely to experience serious complications if they become infected.

Transmission of Virus

Human coronaviruses are most commonly spread from close contact with an infected person to others through:

• the air, if someone coughs or sneezes;
• close personal contact, like touching or shaking hands; and
• touching an object or surface that has been exposed to the virus, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands;

The current coronavirus, COVID-19, appears to occur mainly through respiratory transmission.


Most people who get sick with COVID-19 will develop mild to moderate respiratory symptoms. However, people who are more susceptible to infection may develop more severe disease. The most common symptoms include fever, tiredness, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Some patients may also have aches and pains, runny nose, nasal congestions, sore throat or diarrhea.

Illness can begin 2 to 14 days after an exposure. If these symptoms sound like symptoms of influenza, you are correct. But the consequences of COVID-19 are potentially more serious, which is why if you experience these symptoms you are encouraged to seek medical attention. Most people infected with the virus – about 80% – recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

Important Steps for People Living with COPD as Coronavirus Spreads

1. Maintain at least a 30-day supply of your prescribed medications. Check with your insurance provider for refill terms.

2. Stock up on every day supplies in your home. If possible, ask someone to bring items to your home so you do not have to travel outside.

3. Check with your oxygen supplier to see how it will deal with COVID-19. It’s important to ensure that your routine oxygen needs will be met.

4. Establish a COVID-19 hygiene routine for people entering home (i.e using hand sanitizer, handwashing, etc.), but try to avoid contact with others as much as possible especially if  COVID-19 outbreak is identified in your community.

5. If home health nurses or aides assist you with household tasks, ask what steps they are taking to ensure prevention practices are in place.

6. Stay inside unless absolutely necessary, like to visit your health care provider. If you must go out, keep a 6 foot distance from others and wash your hands often.

Everyday Steps Those Living with COPD Can Take to Further Protect Against Coronavirus

1. Wash your hands often during the day with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer to be sure you’ve washed your hands for 20 seconds? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Keep a bottle or two of hand sanitizer nearby.

2. Routinely clean surfaces in your home (wipes work great) and avoid directly touching surfaces that may contain germs. This includes your telephone, the TV remote control, gym equipment, and the steering wheel of your car.

3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. This is good advice all year round. Once contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth.

4. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Cough into your elbow instead of your hands.

5. Stay in your home and avoid close contact with others who are sick.

6. If you have not yet quit smoking, please do so now and give your respiratory system a break. If you contract COVID-19 you will need your respiratory system to be as strong as possible.

Additional Resources


Do you live with COPD or care for someone who does? Sign-up for our e-newsletter which contains practical tips for living well, the latest in COPD research and legislative updates that may affect you. You will also receive an annual Inspiration newsletter by mail. 

Interested in hearing more from Respiratory Health Association about important lung health and clean air policy issues? Sign-up to join our advocacy e-mail list to receive quarterly updates on what we’re doing to help move Illinois toward a healthier future.

Women Living with COPD: Ask the Healthcare Provider

Respiratory Health Association sat down with MeiLan K. Han, MD, MS, Professor and Director of the Michigan Airways Program at the University of Michigan Health System to address some questions from women living with COPD.

What should women know about COPD?

Women are at equal risk for COPD as men, and in fact some studies suggest women are more susceptible. Women also comprise a higher percentage of individuals living with COPD who have never smoked.

Dr. Han stated that while it is certain that more women die of COPD than men in the US, this may be related to lower risk of dying from other things like heart disease, which, may affect men at an earlier age. However, she emphasized that women with COPD may present with greater symptoms than men and may experience more frequent exacerbations.

How do women know if they should have a COPD screening? When should women be screened for COPD?

If someone is feeling short of breath with activities or experiencing frequent respiratory infections, regardless of smoking history she should discuss with her physician undergoing a breathing test called “spirometry”.

What are steps that women can take to manage their COPD?

There are medications that can help in addition to exercise and life-style management strategies. Patients should talk to their doctor about the most appropriate medications for them and also inquire about whether they would benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, a formal exercise and disease management program.

Interested in learning more about how women can recognize the signs of lung diseases like COPD? Dr. Han shares some more advice:

Let’s Talk About Living Better with COPD

November is National COPD Awareness Month, a time to talk about the disease and raise awareness around symptoms and treatment. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath due to airflow blockage. COPD affects nearly 16 million Americans, and millions more live with undiagnosed symptoms. Earlier diagnosis can help those living with COPD begin to improve their health and quality of life.

COPD may be a large burden on an individual. Without proper management and education, COPD can affect all sorts of activities of daily living. Anxiety and depression among COPD patients and their caregivers only make the problem worse. If you are living with COPD, it is important to recognize any changes in your symptoms and any limitations on your activities to better manage day-to-day living with COPD. The following are recommendations for living well everyday with COPD.

Recognize the importance of practicing prevention strategies

It is important to monitor changes to physical and mental health when living with COPD. Below is a list of prevention recommendations:

  • Get vaccinated (annual influenza and routine pneumonia);
  • Wash your hands routinely. Stay home when you are ill;
  • Stop smoking if you currently do, and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke;
  • Review your medication list with your health care providers to ensure the list is current and you know how to properly use your medications;
  • Ensure you have a sufficient supply of medication at home, especially during winter;
  • Be aware of changes in mental health and communicate any changes to your health care provider and informal caregiver (spouse, child, etc.).

Monitor symptoms of COPD

People living with COPD should track symptoms and share any changes with a health care provider:

  • Please share any increase in coughing or difficulty breathing with your healthcare provider;
  • If a new medication is not working for you and not minimizing your symptoms, please tell your health care provider;
  • It is always okay to obtain a second opinion.

Anxiety and depression are common in patients with COPD and their caregivers

Mental health may impact someone’s ability to manage his or her COPD. It is important to be aware of the following:

  • Anxiety and depression in COPD patients is associated with increased COPD flare-ups, increased hospitalizations, longer lengths of a hospital stay, and decreased quality of life;
  • Be an active part of your care team. Be proactive with your physical AND mental health care;
  • Maintain physical activity, especially in fall and winter. Physical activity can have positive benefits on physical health and mental well-being—make sure to talk to health care providers about physical activities you can do indoors or at home.

If you care for someone living with COPD, it’s important to also take care of your own well-being. View RHA’s Caregiver’s Toolkit to learn more about ways you can help support those you care for while taking time for yourself.

If you live with COPD or want to learn more, sign-up to receive our Inspiration COPD Newsletter.

Respiratory Therapists are Lung Health Heroes

This week is Respiratory Care Week – a time to celebrate respiratory therapists who work tirelessly helping those living with lung diseases breathe easier. Whether testing for lung function in a young child with asthma, or helping someone with COPD use an oxygen tank, respiratory therapists give people the power to take control and live to the fullest.

Their work is especially important considering how common lung diseases are in the United States:

• 25 million people live with asthma
• 16 million live with COPD and another 16 million have undiagnosed symptoms
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women

Respiratory therapists help people better understand and manage their illnesses, allowing them to live without distraction from symptoms. They also provide treatments to those in need of care, improving lung health and way of life.

For respiratory therapists like Rose Riggins, CRTT of AMITA LaGrange in Illinois, it’s way more than a job – it’s getting to know people, their lives and their stories.

“Working with the patients throughout the years has made them feel like family,” she says.

If you are living with lung disease, here are some of respiratory therapists’ most common tips for preventing additional complications and living the healthiest way possible:

• Get a flu shot every year to prevent additional complications of lung disease
• Live smoke-free and avoid secondhand smoke or close contact with smokers
• Eat right to maintain the most energy for staying healthy
• Avoid chemicals – like scented candles and harsh household cleaners – that may cause lung flare-ups
Monitor air quality and avoid the outdoors on poor air quality days

Join RHA this week and every day in saying thank you to respiratory therapists everywhere!

To learn more about becoming a respiratory therapist, view these resources.

Living Better Together Conference Brings Together COPD Community

Do you live with COPD or care for someone who does? Join Respiratory Health Association on Thursday, November 21, 2019 for our 16th annual Living Better Together COPD Conference at Meridian Banquets and Conference Center in Rolling Meadows, IL.

Every year, we host the largest patient-focused COPD event in the United States. The conference – which welcomed nearly 300 people in 2018 – gives those living with COPD, their families and caregivers a chance to come together to promote disease awareness and share stories. The day-long conference will also feature speakers presenting on a variety of topics, including:

  • Cardiovascular Conditions in Patients with COPD
  • Updates in Oxygen Use
  • New Treatments for Emphysema: Endobronchial Valves
  • Patient Empowerment: Advanced Care Planning
  • Latest in COPD Medications
  • Physical Therapy and Music Therapy

New this year — our “Ask the Healthcare Provider” session will feature an expert panel answering frequently asked questions about oxygen use, current COPD treatments and how to better self-manage COPD.

Registration is currently open until early November. Register Online

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is actually the general term for a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two of the most common conditions that make up COPD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 million Americans report they have been diagnosed with COPD. It is estimated another 16 million people have symptoms of the disease but have not yet been diagnosed. To learn more about COPD and how to manage the condition, explore our resources:

If you need additional information on the conference or help registering, please contact Hannah Garza (312-628-0207) or Avanthi Chatrathi (312-229-6186).

people pose at event

Living Better Together brings together people living with COPD, their caregivers and healthcare providers.