Asthma prevalence and school-related hazardous air pollutants in the US-Mxico border area.
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BACKGROUND: Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children and has been linked to high levels of ambient air pollution and certain hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Outdoor pollutants such as benzene, released by car emissions, and organic chemicals found in diesel exhaust, as well as particles and irritant gases, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ozone (O3), contribute to an increased prevalence of respiratory diseases such as asthma. OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study were to: 1) conduct a screening survey to identify high risk for asthma among school-age children in Hidalgo County, and, 2) study the potential health impact of school-related exposure to HAPs pertaining to asthma risk. METHODS: We carried out a quantitative cross-sectional study combining a school-based asthma screening survey across 198 schools in Hidalgo County, Texas, with information on school neighborhood environments, including census tract-level information on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and socioeconomic status (SES) in the respective school neighborhoods. HAPs levels were assessed based on the EPA 2011 National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) while SES information was assessed using data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey. RESULTS: 2930 students completed the asthma screening survey and results showed an overall asthma prevalence of 9.4%, slightly higher than the national and state prevalence. Participants in the 14-18 years old age group showed a much higher asthma prevalence of 16.7%. When assessing school-neighborhood characteristics, our results revealed no significant differences in asthma prevalence across census tracts with different SES levels. For HAPs, in the single-pollutant model, chlorine levels showed a significant linear trend for prevalence of asthma (p=0.03) while hydrochloric acid had a marginally significant linear trend (p=0.08). The association with chlorine remained significant in the multi-pollutant model. CONCLUSIONS: Asthma prevalence among school-age children in Hidalgo County, Texas, is 9.4%, which is slightly higher than the state rate, especially among young adults, ages 14-18 years who had an asthma rate of 16.7%. Results support an association between exposures to school-neighborhood HAPs and risk for pediatric asthma, especially as related to chlorine. No significant effects of school-level SES on asthma risk were observed.