The Clairton Coke Works plant is back up and running after an alert about air pollution concerns.
Channel 11 morning news anchor Joe Arena first told us about the asthma problems impacting children living near this plant and others in our area in November of 2017. He looked into a concerning report from Duquesne University researchers. Now, he got invited to see how they are trying to help those children.
Duquesne University researchers are working with the Breathe Project of the Heinz Endowments to check all students in some school districts for asthma. This school year, students in the Clairton, Northgate and Woodland Hills School Districts, and at Propel-Hazelwood Charter School, all were given mandatory surveys to look for asthma concerns.
"We'd like to see this adopted all across the state," said Pediatric Alliance physician Doctor Deborah Gentile.
In November of 2017, Channel 11 first told you 22 percent of kids tested near high-risk areas has asthma. More than half of those cases were uncontrolled. The researchers wanted to change that. They enlisted Duquesne University pharmacy students to start testing children in these districts.
"My problem is, I usually have more students sign up to volunteer then we actually have jobs for," said Dr. Jennifer Elliot, a professor at Duquesne University.
She said there is a big focus on making these screenings, and subsequent care, convenient for families. The students can help teach children how to administer their asthma medications and can help parents understand their child's symptoms. Gentile said asthma is a leading cause of school absences for children.
"I think in Pittsburgh with the Pittsburgh Promise, it is important to try to keep these kids in school," said Doctor Gentile. "Because if they are in school and they achieve the grades, they are qualifying for post-secondary funding for education to help them get better jobs."
Ultimately, researchers said these quick screenings could impact children for decades to come. The testing also checks for cigarette smoke exposure in homes. However, Duquesne researchers said air pollution is a dominating trigger for asthma in children in Pittsburgh.
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