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.

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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.

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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.

Skokie Flavored Vaping Product Ban Falls Short

For Immediate Release

September 24, 2021

Contact: Erica Krutsch

[email protected]

Respiratory Health Association Statement on Skokie’s Ban of Certain Flavored Vaping Products

Skokie, IL – This week the village of Skokie passed an ordinance banning the sale of certain flavored vaping products within village limits. The ordinance is part of a local effort to curb tobacco use by teens, as recent surveys have shown that over 80 percent of e-cigarette users between ages 12 to 17 report flavoring as a primary reason for using a tobacco product.

Notably, the new law does not restrict the sale of menthol flavorings.

In response to the ordinance, Respiratory Health Association issued the following statement:

“Respiratory Health Association applauds the village of Skokie for taking steps to limit access to some flavored vaping products that disproportionately drive teen tobacco use today. Nicotine is an addictive, dangerous drug that harms brain development and poses other significant health risks. We only wish the ordinance had followed the science and banned menthol flavoring— one of the preferred flavors among the teens Skokie is trying to protect. In fact, research suggests that banning some flavors while still allowing menthol flavoring will simply lead to young people switching to menthol products.

The vaping industry’s illegal marketing to children has been well documented, and one of the industry’s largest players, JUUL, has been sued by the FDA for making illegal claims about the safety of their products. Additionally, no level of chemical aerosol inhalation is good for the lungs, and other long-term health impacts of these products are completely unknown.

The soothing sensation of menthol-flavored tobacco makes it easier to inhale and potentially harder to quit.  Because menthol products feel less harsh, they have greater appeal to new smokers and young people.[i]

We hope the village of Skokie will continue to develop additional measures that deter youth nicotine use, improve health equity, and protect vulnerable communities.”

[i] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/tobacco_industry/menthol-cigarettes/index.html

Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act Becomes Law

For Immediate Release

September 15, 2021

Contact: Erica Krutsch

[email protected]

Respiratory Health Association Applauds Signing of Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (Senate Bill 2408)

 Legislation invests in clean energy, electric transportation in historic win for clean air and lung health

CHICAGO –After more than three years of advocacy and grassroots organizing by Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and partners across the state in the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, today Governor Pritzker signed into law a nation-leading equitable climate bill.

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act sets Illinois on the path to 100% clean energy by 2050 and commits millions of dollars to quickly accelerate transportation electrification in Illinois.

Following the Governor’s signing, RHA released the following statement:

“Respiratory Health Association applauds Governor Pritzker on today’s signing of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act. Illinois is now poised to lead the nation in building a strong, sustainable future with an energy plan that addresses the public health threat of pollution from fossil fuels, takes steps to support communities most impacted by poor air quality, and creates quality jobs.

The energy and transportation industries are the leading contributors to air pollution, including particulate matter pollution and smog. Not only do these emissions accelerate climate change, but they have a significant impact on our health.

More than 137 million Americans live in communities, both cities and rural areas, with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Recent research indicates that worldwide more than eight million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution. Air pollution is also linked to increased risk for lung cancer and chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

We would like to thank Governor Pritzker, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon and other legislative champions in addition to thousands of diverse advocates who have joined us in advocating for clean energy, clean air, and healthy lungs for more than three years.”

Dr. Nadia Hansel Receives 2021 Solovy Award for COPD Research

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name Nadia Hansel, MD, MPH, as recipient of the 2021 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD. Dr. Hansel is the Director of the Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The award is funded by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD. It recognizes researchers who have worked to improve the lives of people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Through the award, Dr. Hansel and her team will work to address the disparities and hospitalization burden of people living with COPD.

More than 16 million Americans live with COPD, a disease that makes breathing difficult and may lead to other conditions. Millions more have early symptoms.

Dr. Hansel has published over 200 articles and has been involved in local, national, and international educational activities focused on COPD. She researches the genetics and environmental factors of COPD and, in addition to her own work, serves as a mentor to investigators who are also dedicated to advancing the knowledge of COPD. A major focus of her work is the study of social causes of health-related risk factors for COPD including poverty, obesity, diet, and indoor air pollution. This is especially important as COPD has been traditionally considered a smoking-related illness, with other possible risk factors not fully addressed. Her work has also produced groundbreaking research showing indoor air cleaners may improve symptoms and reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups.

The impact of Dr. Hansel’s research is significant – and is a reminder that lung disease research is historically underfunded. Every year Respiratory Health Association awards early-stage research grants to promising projects covering lung diseases such as lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and COPD. Learn more about RHA’s research program and funding opportunities.

Watch our 2021 Solovy Award spotlight:

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

For Immediate Release

September 11, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski

[email protected]

312-405-1175

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.”

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 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 www.resphealth.org.

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find COVID-19 Link

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find Link to COVID-19 Infection

CDC Study Shows Urgent Need for Federal, State, and Local Action to Reduce Youth E-Cigarette Use

Contact: Erica Krutsch, Director, Marketing & Communications
734-262-4527 | [email protected]

Chicago, IL – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new findings on youth tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, as part of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey found that nationally 32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019. That number represents a 148% increase since 2017. In Illinois, the survey found nearly 20% of high school students used vaping products, a 51% increase, and in Chicago, 12.4% of high schoolers vaped, which is an 88% increase.32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019

“The data show that Illinois and Chicago have made more progress in addressing the teen vaping crisis than some areas of the country, but there is still work to be done,” says Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer at Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based lung health organization. “We know e-cigarettes are dangerous, and we need to do everything in our power to prevent a generation of kids from starting.”

The CDC findings come less than two weeks after a Stanford University study found that young people who smoke or use e-cigarettes are five times more likely to contract coronavirus than nonsmokers. Preliminary research also suggests that smokers infected with COVID-19 are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have severe symptoms and 2.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, need mechanical ventilation, or die compared to non-smokers.

“Emerging research has already shown that e-cigarette use may increase coronavirus infection and cause more severe cases of lung disease – and we are only beginning to understand the lasting health impacts of this virus,” commented Ravi Kalhan, MD, Director, Asthma and COPD Program at Northwestern University and RHA board member. “Just a year after we first saw unprecedented cases of lung illness related to vaping, and now facing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially concerning to see a growing number of teens are putting themselves at risk by using e-cigarettes.”

Respiratory Health Association advocates strengthening state and local indoor clean air laws to include e-cigarette and vaping use and banning flavored tobacco products that entice young people to start smoking as meaningful ways to curb teen vaping.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906 focusing on lung health and clean air issues. A policy leader, our organization remains 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. For more information, visit resphealth.org.

Air Pollution Action Day Called for June 18

Air Pollution Levels to Bring Widespread Unhealthy Air Quality Throughout Chicago Area on Thursday
Air Pollution Exposure a Risk Factor for COVID-19

June 16, 2020 – Chicago, IL — Respiratory Health Association is alerting the public that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is declaring an Air Pollution Action Day for Thursday, June 18 in the Chicago metro area – including the city, north, south and west suburbs. Adjacent areas in Wisconsin and Indiana are also expected to see elevated air pollution levels. Groups who are sensitive to air pollution, including children, elderly people, people who work outdoors, and those living with lung disease should take appropriate precautions.

Warm, summer-like temperatures will lead to increased ground-level ozone (smog) on Wednesday, causing air quality to potentially reach the ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’ level or higher across much of the region. To avoid possible breathing problems related to breathing ozone smog, people in sensitive groups, especially those living with lung diseases like asthma and COPD, should try to limit outdoor activity, stay cool and comfortable – preferably in an air-conditioned area—limit strenuous physical activity, and stay hydrated.

Employers and residents of the Chicago metropolitan area are asked to follow “green actions” like those described below to help reduce air pollution on Wednesday. These groups are also encouraged to share air quality forecasts and Action Day alerts with colleagues, friends, and family to help protect their health.

• Limit driving if you can — consider walking, biking, or working from home if possible.
• If driving, avoid idling, and try to run errands after 7 pm when sunlight is not as strong.
• Avoid using gasoline-powered equipment on Air Pollution Action Days.
• Set your thermostat up 2 degrees to limit air pollution from fossil fuel power plants.
• Turn off and unplug electronics not in use.
• Do not burn leaves and other yard waste.
• Sign-up to receive air quality forecasts via email at www.enviroflash.info.

High air pollution levels are additionally concerning now, as people exposed to higher pollution levels may be at greater risk of getting sick with COVID-19. This may exacerbate infection rates in communities of color already disproportionally harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. People living in these communities also face higher rates of lung diseases such as asthma.

For more information or to talk about the health impacts of air pollution on communities throughout the Chicago area, please contact Brian Urbaszewski, Director, Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. He is available by e-mail at [email protected] or via phone at 312-405-1175.

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.

We Teamed Up With Fleet Feet and On to Give Back to Front-Line Healthcare Workers

Fleet Feet, Respiratory Health Association deliver 250 pairs of On running shoes to Chicago front-line medical workers

Donation provides comfort to staff at three area hospitals during COVID-19 response

CHICAGO, IL, May 06, 2020 – Fleet Feet, a leading retailer of athletic footwear and apparel; Respiratory Health Association, Chicago’s local lung health nonprofit; and On, innovators in shoe design technology, have teamed up to deliver more than 250 pairs of running shoes to front-line healthcare workers.

Shoes were delivered to healthcare staff at Northwestern Medicine, University of Chicago Medicine, and Loyola Medical Center this week. The deliveries coincided with the start of National Nurses Week and Nurse Appreciation Month.

“We’re incredibly grateful for the generous donation from On and collaboration with Fleet Feet that we hope provides some measure of comfort to medical staff in Chicago,” says Joel Africk, President & CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “We have to do everything we can to face this crisis as a united community, and this is a great example of everyone chipping in.”

“The medical profession is being asked to do more now than it ever has in our recent history. If they are doing more, we can do more to support them,” says Dave Zimmer, Owner, Fleet Feet. “We are fortunate to be working with On to provide footwear to hardworking respiratory therapists, doctors and nurses at local hospitals.”

“We are deeply appreciative of our medical heroes in Chicago and across the world as they continue the fight against COVID-19,” says Britt Olsen, On’s GM of North America. “They are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of this crisis and at On we felt the least we could do is help provide comfortable footwear during the many hours they’re spending on their feet. We also owe a huge thanks to Fleet Feet for collaborating with us in this donation process.”

Since 1906, Respiratory Health Association has helped address Chicago’s greatest lung health challenges – from tuberculosis and influenza to asthma and lung cancer. COVID-19 is the latest challenge. Respiratory Health Association empowers patients and protects the most vulnerable through education, advocacy and research.

Fleet Feet has been a sponsor of Respiratory Health Association’s annual Hustle Chicago® stair climb for more than twenty years. The event is held each February and has raised more than $17 million to support the local fight against lung disease.

Fleet Feet is committed to finding shoes with the perfect fit for runners, walkers, fitness enthusiasts—and now medical professionals—across Chicagoland.