Study Pinpoints Pollutants That Cause Asthma

Medical researchers have long known there’s a connection between pollution and asthma. But a new study is among the first to pinpoint some of the exact elements that apparently cause breathing problems.

Dr. Rachel Miller, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, says research has focused generically on what’s called “fine particulate matter” in pollution. She says identifying the specific asthma-causing elements will help advocates focus on specific kinds of pollution for reduction.

MILLER: Looking at fine particulate matter, which is what we currently do and what the EPA currently does, may not pick up the component levels that really are of concern. We should be thinking about more targeted solutions.

REPORTER: Miller’s research found a high association between asthma and the metal nickel. She says this is surprising, because the nickel appears to come from a very widespread source: heating boilers. Miller says it’s not yet clear why some boilers might emit more nickel than others, but it gives investigators a new source to investigate more closely.