Photo by Sam Hodgson
A view of the NASSCO shipyards beyond a school bus passing through Barrio Logan.
Statement: “Barrio Logan has one of the highest rates of asthma not only in San Diego but all of California, ” activist and San Diego Free Press contributor Brent E. Beltrán wrote in a Dec. 8 column.
Determination: Mostly True
Analysis: Barrio Logan is known for its mishmash of homes and industry. One local activist recently took things a step further and claimed the neighborhood should also be known as one of the state’s asthma capitals.
Brent E. Beltrán, an activist who regularly writes for the San Diego Free Press, has written a handful of posts about an attempt to force a vote on a new Barrio Logan community plan approved by the City Council this fall.
In his latest post, he wrote that Barrio Logan has one of the steepest asthma rates in both San Diego and the state. Beltrán suggested pollution from maritime businesses, as well as motorists on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and Interstate 5 were to blame.
The new community blueprint approved by the City Council attempts to separate the shipyard industry from homes by creating a nine-block buffer zone.
We decided to check Beltrán’s statement, which he also made during a panel discussion at the recent Binational Conference on Border Issues, because supporters of the new community blueprint have tied the health risks associated with the neighborhood’s current makeup to the need for a buffer between industry and residences. Indeed, mayoral candidate and Councilman David Alvarez, who grew up in Barrio Logan, has repeatedly mentioned his own asthma when emphasizing his support for the plan passed by the Council.
To be clear, air pollution is just one potential asthma trigger and researchers have only recently established a direct link between traffic fumes and asthma. For example, exposure to cigarette smoke and family history can also factor into whether a person develops the disease.
The state also doesn’t collect data on actual incidences of asthma, like it does for cancer.
But a statewide effort to measure pollution and its impact on California communities made vetting Beltrán’s claim fairly straightforward.
Earlier this year, the state Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released a web tool known as CalEnviroScreen, which breaks out a number of different pollution-related indicators. Asthma is one of them.
State researchers gathered data on asthma-related emergency room visits from 2007 to 2009 and noted the ZIP code each patient provided. Then they calculated the number of emergency room visits per 10,000 people for each ZIP code.
This allowed the two state agencies to rank about 1,700 ZIP codes based on the prevalence of hospital visits for asthma.
Here’s a statewide map of their findings.
San Bernardino and smattering of California cities that border Arizona are darkly shaded.
Zoom in on the city of San Diego and you’ll see the area around downtown and the bay is darker than many other spots in the southern portion of the map.
Here’s a closer look.
One of those darkened areas – which represents the 92113 ZIP code – includes Barrio Logan. State data shows this ZIP code had a higher rate of asthma-related hospital visits than 92.9 percent of ZIP codes throughout the state, with about 81 visits per 10,000 people.
Only one other San Diego County ZIP code has a higher rate of visits. That’s 92114, which captures southeastern San Diego neighborhoods, including Encanto and Emerald Hills.
The Encanto area saw a slightly steeper rate: more asthma-related visits than 93.3 percent of California ZIP codes, state data shows. This spot saw a rate of about 83 visits per 10,000 people.
This graphic shows the other San Diego County ZIP codes that had rates in top 20th percentile. ZIP codes that include parts of downtown San Diego, National City, Lemon Grove and City Heights also made this list.
The state doesn’t collect data on incidences of asthma. It has, however, compiled information on hospital visits. And San Diego County collects numbers on asthma-related deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room discharges but doesn’t break that information down by neighborhood or ZIP code.
The state’s data is all that’s available to assess Beltrán’s claim, and it shows more Barrio Logan residents reported to an emergency room with asthma-related symptoms than residents of most other neighborhoods in the state.
More comprehensive data that breaks down actual incidences of asthma would be ideal but Beltrán’s claim appears accurate based on available state data.
We dub a claim “mostly true” when a statement is accurate but there is an important nuance to consider. In this case, the crucial distinction is that the state doesn’t specifically track incidences of asthma. Barrio Logan has among the highest rates of asthma-related ER visits in the region and the state, and it’s fair to assume that translates to overall asthma rates.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.
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