Asthma is a serious chronic lung disease that appears to be on the rise in California, the United States and many other countries around the world. The prevalence of asthma in the U.S. has increased by more than 75% since 1980; children and certain racial groups, especially African Americans, have experienced relatively greater increases in asthma prevalence. An estimated 11.9% of Californians - 3.9 million children and adults - report that they have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives, compared to the national average of 10.1%. Nearly 667,000 school-aged children in California have experienced asthma symptoms during the past 12 months. Asthma causes breathing problems due to a narrowing of the airways causing the lungs to get less air. Attacks are characterized by a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
Air pollution plays a well-documented role in asthma attacks, however, the role air pollution plays in initiating asthma is still under investigation and may involve a very complex set of interactions between indoor and outdoor environmental conditions and genetic susceptibility. The Research Division of the Air Resources Board has been a leader in developing and supporting research to understand the relationship between air pollution and asthma. Most notably, the ARB-funded Children's Health Study at the University of Southern California found that children who participated in several sports and lived in communities with high ozone levels were more likely to develop asthma than the same active children living in areas with less ozone pollution. In another ARB-funded study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine found a positive association between some volatile organic compounds and symptoms in asthmatic children from Huntington Park. Additional ARB studies are underway and many will focus on the role of particulate matter pollution on asthma. In the Central Valley the ARB F.A.C.E.S. project is examining the role of particulate matter pollution in the exacerbation of childhood asthma.