Then-mayoral candidate David Alvarez greets workers outside of the NASSCO shipyards, 2013. Photo by Sam Hodgson

by Nancy Kirk | SDSU student

David Alvarez, the councilman who represents southeastern San Diego, knows well how poor air quality can affect health. He attributes his own asthma to growing up in Barrio Logan.

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Key points:
1. Asthma affects everyone differently and many people don’t develop it until adulthood
2. Some people are more susceptible to asthma because of their living environment
3. Mold, dander, exercise, and dust are all triggers of asthma

“My entire childhood, I lived next to a chrome plate shop,” Alvarez said. “The emissions from the exhaust landed into my front yard and my home, and that was a reason I still suffer from asthma.”

Back then, no one seemed to care about air-borne toxins in the heavily industrial area, he said.

“Our voice wasn’t being heard as residents.”

Alvarez and other city officials are looking for ways to improve the living conditions. One of the main goals is to ensure that trucks spewing emissions aren’t cutting through the community. Another is  to reduce the number of industrial buildings and promote more commercial spaces, which will decrease industrial pollution.

These changes will improve living conditions for people like Jason Bridges, a security guard who lives in Logan Heights and suffers from asthma. He said he uses his inhaler about two to three times a week.

“It feels like you are breathing through one of those little red coffee straws and there’s still little liquid at the bottom of the cup to where you get that slurping sound,” he said.

Bridges, like others in the area, doesn’t know what exactly triggers his asthmatic attacks.

Jaoquin Bacquec is a retired mechanic who said he has lived in his Logan Heights home with his wife for about 60 years. He grew up as a child living in Mexico City, a notoriously polluted area that he believes may have been a contributing factor to his own asthma.

“I’ve heard a lot about air contamination from the Navy base,” he said. Bacquec said he likes living in Logan Heights, and he and his wife recently bought their home. They plan on staying there.

Pollution can irritate the lungs, potentially triggering asthma attacks. Logan Heights is also a less expensive area, which Lynn Vogelgesang, a family nurse practitioner, believes can have an influence on health.

“I think lower income housing areas have a big problem with mold and cockroaches so those can certainly trigger asthma,” Vogelgesang said.

Councilman Alvarez said his own story is personal motivation to improve air quality. He and other members of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights are committed to tangible solutions.

One of the main accomplishments so far has been reducing emissions from the Port of San Diego by getting the ships that dock to use shoreline power, as opposed to running on coal. Other plans include planting trees and encouraging alternative modes of transportation.

“To this day, we’re trying to invest effort to get people to be active, ensure trucks don’t go through the neighborhood and things like that to help our community,” Alvarez said. “That way, future generations of kids will not have to suffer what I had to as a child.”

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

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