"Varrio Logan" bridge underpass in Barrio Logan's Chicano Park. Photo Courtesy: Dennis Vieira

By Nancy Kirk | SDSU student

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Key points:
1. Asthma hospitalization rates in Barrio Logan are 2.5 times the nation’s average
2. There may be a correlation between asthma and air quality
3. Residents in the area who are affected by asthma need to be cautious of their environment and properly monitor their asthma

Residents in Logan Heights and Barrio Logan are subject to some of the worst air quality in San Diego, according to state data. Because children are more susceptible than adults to asthma, students at Burbank Elementary and Logan Elementary may be at greater risk of developing or suffering a worsening of the disease.

The air in Barrio Logan and Logan Heights, in the southeastern part of San Diego, was measured in the top 20 percent of California neighborhoods with high levels of pollution by a state monitoring tool called CalEnviroScreen. The interactive tool was created by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to identify environmentally-disadvantaged communities throughout the state.

The color-coded map shows air quality across San Diego County, Barrio Logan and Logan Heights are the only neighborhoods shaded red.
The color-coded map shows air quality across San Diego County, Barrio Logan and Logan Heights are the only neighborhoods shaded red. Map courtesy of CalEnviroScreen 2.0, click on the image to visit the interactive map

The amount of particulate matter in the air can be associated with asthmatic flare-ups and wheezing in children, according to the EPA, though the degree to which it contributes to asthma is unclear.

The rates of asthma hospitalization cases are almost 2.5 times the national average in Barrio Logan, according to the Environmental Health Coalition.

Considering the Schools

Children may be more susceptible to harmful effects of air pollution than adults because they tend to explore and play outdoors more than adults and have immune systems that are not fully developed, according to the EPA.

The students in Logan Heights and Barrio Logan are exposed to a potentially harmful quality of air on a daily basis, something that the schools do their best to monitor, according to Diane Buley, a nurse at Burbank Elementary.

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Asthma triggers include:

  • – Animal dander
  • – Exercise
  • – Pollution
  • – Smoke
  • – Dust
  • – Stress
  • – Fungus spores
  • – Pollen
  • – Bugs


Buley said she urged parents from another elementary school where she works to supply the nurse’s office with inhalers for their children with asthma in case of an emergency.

“I practically begged the parents to bring them and got supporting documentation on why their children should have their inhaler,” Buley said. “In my opinion, lower income families live more for the moment and they’re just trying to survive economically than to predict what could happen in the future.”

Buley’s supervisor is Lynn Vogelgesang, a family nurse practioner who manages the nurses for 24 San Diego schools. She said that there is a higher instance of asthma in Logan Heights and surrounding areas.

“Because there are so many more particulates, they are seeing a higher rate of asthma,” Vogelgesang said. “So it’s clearly not just a genetic thing.”

Other factors that can trigger asthma include the person’s exposure to allergens, like pollens, mold, or animal dander. Many homes in Logan Heights are old, and may hold more allergens, according to Susan Laubach, a physician at the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group in San Diego, a medical center that provides specialty care to allergy and asthma patients.

“Their schools may have higher levels of mold or dust as well,” said Laubach. “Those buildings are usually less maintained than other places that have more money.”

Laubach suggests that children and families make plans to avoid such triggers by staying indoors if the pollution index exceeds what the EPA considers safe that day or avoiding physical activity if a known trigger is present, like the Santa Ana winds or animal dander.

Click here for more from “What’s in the Air”

Nancy Kirk was enrolled in San Diego State’s “What’s in the Air” sensor journalism class in Spring 2015.

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