Fact Check: Asthma in Barrio Logan

Fact Check: Asthma in Barrio Logan

Photo by Sam Hodgson

A view of the NASSCO shipyards beyond a school bus passing through Barrio Logan.

Image: Mostly TrueStatement: “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.

 

San Diego-area Asthma Hot Spots

| Create infographics

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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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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26 comments
Grammie
Grammie

What is the rate of ER visits for all causes in Barrio Logan?

Bit-watcher
Bit-watcher

92113 is a fairly large ZIP code. Pointing at the asthma rate for 92113 and singling out Logan Heights is an impressive piece of journalistic legerdemain. What mathematical methods support this conclusion? What other hazards exist in that area, viz. smoking, cooking styles, foods, insects, pets, construction materials of the residences, or other hazards? True there are freeways there, but also generally a pretty good stiff breeze, particularly along the bay where Logan Heights is. 92113 also extends along the 94, which has a lot a traffic.

Bit-watcher
Bit-watcher subscriber

92113 is a fairly large ZIP code. Pointing at the asthma rate for 92113 and singling out Logan Heights is an impressive piece of journalistic legerdemain. What mathematical methods support this conclusion? What other hazards exist in that area, viz. smoking, cooking styles, foods, insects, pets, construction materials of the residences, or other hazards? True there are freeways there, but also generally a pretty good stiff breeze, particularly along the bay where Logan Heights is. 92113 also extends along the 94, which has a lot a traffic.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

“Beltran’ suggested pollution from maritime businesses, as well as motorists on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and Interstate 5....”, so just what is demonstrated here? As the old truism is still true, correlation is not causation, what is the point of this article, to validate David Alvarez, to help the residents, to demonstrate the shipyards are bad neighbors, or what? Any business that emits fumes can be visited by the local sanitation personnel, EPA or OSHA and given a cease and desist order and maybe even be forced to relocate, as the recent action at Huy Fong hot sauce in Vernon demonstrates.

As your article indicates, there are a lot of emergency room visits for asthma, but did you compare emergency room visits in general with other areas? Isn’t it obvious that Barrio Logan has a lot of immigrants, many of whom may be “undocumented”, and the average income level hardly matches Bankers Hill. Ergo, a lot of people resort to emergency rooms for a lot of their health care needs, not just asthma.

Jack Monger
Jack Monger

Regarding the data from EPA's CalEnvironScreen showing that zip code 92113 (including Barrio Logan) had a higher rate of hospital visits than 90% of other zip codes, a couple of questions come to mind:
1. Are these visits to hospitals or clinics in the 92113 zip code or are these visits by people who reside in 92113 zip code but are treated at any hospital in the area?
2. If these are visits to hospitals/clinics located in the 92113 zip code, are the asthma patients exclusively from the 92113 zip code or can they be from other areas? For example, Family Health Centers operates a large clinic in Barrio Logan whose patients are not limited to the Barrio Logan community or zip code.

southSD
southSD

Poorly managed asthma is more likely to result in visits to emergency rooms than asthma that is well managed. In general, low income individuals are more likely to have poorly managed asthma because they are less likely to have insurance and access to quality medical care. Based on this alone, a higher number of ER visits would be expected for Barrio Logan.

While I do believe that air pollution affects asthma rates, this study does not show that Barrio Logan has any higher rate asthma diagnosis than any other area of the county or state.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish subscriber

Good stats Lisa. Not sure if you've seen this one, but here is a rather fascinating article about the impacts of pollution. Long, but worth a read.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasolineAmerica's Real Criminal Element: Leadhttp://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasolineWhen Rudy Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1993, he campaigned on a platform of bringing down crime and making the city safe again. It was a comfortable position for a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy image, but it was more than m...

Catherine Green
Catherine Green

Hi there - just shot you an email. Please update your account with a real first and last name or we'll have to suspend it for a bit.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

The map shows that the hot spots for asthma ER visits are in the urban SD area, NOT in places you might expect, like Escondido and El Cajon (cities with poorer populations that are in valleys and more susceptible to smog and less affected by sea breezes).

That suggests, but doesn't prove, that there's more than a simple poor-people-go-to-the-ER-more thing going on here.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

"correlation is not causation"
Unfortunately most think it is and leads to decisions made on emotion.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

The story says these are the zip codes that ER patients provide.

Bob Hudson
Bob Hudson subscriber

"asthma-related emergency room visits" can indeed skew results...

I wonder how many of those visits were to the nearby UCSD hospital ER, which has always seemed to be an especially popular choice for those who seek EENT treatment through emergency rooms?

If true, though, this shows that the persistent campaign to cram more housing into that area might not be such a good idea, especially if there's no clear idea about the reason for these results. Shipyards and associated waterfront industries have long been among the most highly-regulated businesses in California when it comes to environmental protection, so simply pointing fingers at them does nothing to solve the problem that might exist.

Certainly the overhead freeway that is the Coronado Bridge combined with the very busy I-5 would seem a more likely culprit, but, again, is it responsible to push for increased housing without having some answers?

Without such answers, any evironmental report for the Barrio Logan plan would be flawed and could result in future residents being placed in harm's way.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

Good point. However, lots of poorer areas (like in the backcountry and North County) don't seem to have the highest ER visit rates like central San Diego does. (And you might expect East/North County would have MORE asthma because of higher smog levels.) The map suggests the picture is more complicated than simply more poverty = more asthma ER visits.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

I did some research into last names and couldn't find anyone anywhere with the last name of Finish, even in the Social Security Death Index, which has tens of millions of names. But maybe he's an outlier :)

Catherine Green
Catherine Green

Chris, the "preferably" bit was a joke. Sorry - facetiousness doesn't always translate. I'm not convinced Matt Finish is a made-up name, but I've emailed other folks to make sure they add real first and last names. Thanks for voicing your concerns - it's a big community but we're trying to moderate it the best we can.

Catherine Green
Catherine Green

PERSONAL ATTACKS, DOTINGA. #checkyourselfbeforeyouwreckyourself

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

"Finish" is an unusual last name. I couldn't find any evidence that it actually is one.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Sorry. I didn't get it. Good to know. I have no opinion about Mr. Finish BTW.

Grammie
Grammie

Mr or Ms Brewster, when VOSD changed their platform, it is possible that I should have reentered my "real" name, which has been known to the publisher for a number of years. I have received personal mail from VOSD at my home.
If you desire further information about my identity, you may request it here.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Ms. Green: Question. You have someone commenting under the name, "Grammie." Clicking in the name you get, "Grammie." Is that considered a real first and last name?

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Ms. Green: Full, "preferably" real names? Sorry, but that seems absurd to me and, as Mr. Dotinga points out, it's inconsistent with the link you posted, which says you require real first and last names. I see no utility in requiring full names if they can be bogus. Do you?

As I recall, when VOSD required real names, it elevated the debate substantially. I think that's good. If that is no longer being enforced, the debate may spiral downward.

With reference to Mr. Dotinga's post above and your reply suggesting it is a personal attack to question a poster's authenticity, I don't know who is supposed to be the sheriff around here, but it does seem as though he was suggesting a possible violation of VOSD rules. Whether that should have been done on the comment board is a matter for you of VOSD to determine. It would be nice though to see the rules either enforced or modified.

Randy Dotinga
Randy Dotinga memberauthor

"We still require real first and last names and contact information for folks to comment. If you don’t include that after we’ve asked you to, we’ll remove your account from commenting."

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Trying to force real names kills comments. Disruptive behavior can easily be controlled in modern commenting systems. Therefore, the only remaining reason to force real names is because it makes the information that they harvest and sell to advertisers more valuable if it's tied to a real name.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

Mr. Dotinga: At one point VOSD required (I don't know how) use of actual names whether explicitly or when one clicked on the name (it would show the actual name behind it). What is the rule or convention on that now?