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Asthma in the Apple

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A shot of East Harlem. By roeyahram from Flickr.

In New York, just under two miles from the glitter and glam of 5th Avenue, is the working-class neighborhood of East Harlem, home to six of Manhattan’s seven bus depots and some of the dirtiest air in the city. I stumbled across an article published in the New York Times just under a year ago about Wendy Agustín, a mother of five who lives directly across from on these bus depots. Ms. Agustin keeps the windows to her apartment closed all day so her children don’t have to breathe the contaminated air that rises up from the depot. “If I don’t keep those windows closed,” she told the New York Times, “that smell rises up and comes in, a smell like diesel, a nasty stench.” Some of Ms. Agustin’s neighbors have voiced similar complaints and have found their possessions caked in a thick layer of soot from the buses after having left their windows open. Asthma is also a big problem in the neighborhood, which has the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in the country. And many of these hospitalizations are occurring to children who have been poisoned by the air. According to the National Asthma Survey, from 2002-2004 children between the ages of 0-14 living in East Harlem experience 126.1 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents.

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