A local medical researcher Wednesday said already alarming rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases among residents of Buffalo's densely populated West Side would be made worse by increased truck traffic resulting from an expansion of the toll plaza near the Peace Bridge.
Dr. Jamson S. Lwebuga-Mukasa was the featured speaker during a public meeting on the health effects of Peace Bridge traffic held in Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. About 25 residents were on hand for the gathering.
Lwebuga-Mukasa, the founder, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory & Environmental Exposure Consultants, began studying air quality and asthma rates on the city's West Side more than a decade ago.
"I started mapping it out and found that there was a gradient," Lwebuga-Mukasa said. "The closer you live to this source of the traffic, the higher the rate of asthma is, and it gradually decreases the further away you get from the source."
Lwebuga-Mukasa focused specifically on the smaller particulates from diesel fuel emissions. He found more than 90 toxins, including benzene and formaldehyde - both known carcinogens.
"One of the problems we have is we don't measure those particles," Lwebuga-Mukasa said.
"When you talk to people who measure air quality, they don't measure those particles. But the fact that they are not mandated by law to measure those particles does not mean you don't get sick from them," he added.
Lwebuga-Mukasa, who was formerly the director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Exposure at Buffalo General Hospital as well as an associate professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, collaborated on the study with specialists from eight other universities across the country.
During that time, he has been working with the Buffalo West Side Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising public awareness of environmental issues and the sponsor of Wednesday night's public meeting.
Kathleen Mecca, president of the Columbus Park Association, has been working with the defense fund since 2004. Mecca said that nearly 45 percent of households on Buffalo's West Side have reported at least one case of chronic respiratory illness or asthma. That's nearly four times the national average.
In addition, she said, the state Department of Health's cancer registry indicates elevated levels of both lung and bronchus cancers within the city's West Side neighborhoods.
"We want air pollution eliminated. We don't want it mitigated. And both of those things speak directly to requiring the [Peace] Bridge Authority and the state ... to conduct, immediately, a full environmental review," Mecca said.
"As citizens," she added, "we have the right to know: 'Is there something that is going to be built that is harmful to the environment and human health?' before it is built."