Asthma Research Granted State Funds

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The state has granted a pair of UC Berkeley professors $3.8 million to research the relationship between air pollution and childhood asthma, a spokesperson for Gov. Gray Davis said yesterday.

UC Berkeley professors Kathie Hammond and Ira Tager said they expect to use the money for a five-year investigation into the effect of airborne particles on 450 asthmatic children, focusing specifically on children six to 10 years old.

Hammond, an associate professor of environmental health sciences, said she hopes the study will help determine whether polluted air makes childhood asthma more acute.

"Our main hypothesis is that people will have more frequent asthma attacks and more serious asthma attacks when there is a lot of air pollution," she said.

Hammond said the study will be divided into two parts, each allocated $1.9 million in funding. Tager, a professor of epidemiology, will study the health effects of asthma, while Hammond will determine the amount of pollution to which the children are exposed.

"The important thing is that the health effects and the exposures will be studied very carefully in conjunction with each other in a way that will enhance sensitivity and understanding," Hammond said.

Gennet Osborn, a Davis spokesperson, said the state has never before funded a study specifically tracing

asthmatic children's reaction to air pollution.

"The study will give the state of California a better idea of how particulate matter affects youngsters and how these effects will carry over into their adult lives," she said.

UC Berkeley's grant is part of the $5 million Davis pledged to study the impact of dirty air on those especially vulnerable to pollution.

"This is an important study because it looks specifically at children's health and how pollutants affect their respiratory system," Osborn said. "We look forward to the outcome."

Although the state Air Resources Board allocated $1.2 million for similar studies in December, UC Berkeley won the vast majority of the funds when the board approved its $3.8 million grant application on Jan. 28. The remainder of the money went to a multitude of smaller projects at other UC schools and Stanford University.

Osborn said the research will help Davis tailor environmental policy.

"We can focus on specific reactions," she said. "We can make programs that will help reduce the air pollution that's diminishing children's capacity to breathe."

The UC Berkeley study will be centered near Fresno, which currently has the worst pollution and highest rates of childhood asthma in the San Joaquin Valley, Hammond said.

She added that the part of the study measuring children's health is set to begin March 1, while the part tracing children's exposure to pollution will start in July.

Hammond said the grant money will enable her to hire approximately six graduate students to participate in the study.

Elke Sporfeen, a spokesperson for the environmental student group CalPIRG, said she anticipates the research money will raise awareness about negative reactions to pollution.

"Hopefully, the research will help curb a lot of the pollution that comes from cars and dirty power plants," she said. "We need to get more information so industries will clean up their act."

Davis' budget for the 2000 fiscal year allocates $5.2 million for various environmental programs, including nearly $3 million to clean up toxic materials at school sites. Davis also vowed to spend nearly $850,000 to evaluate cancer risks to children from toxic chemical exposure.


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