It’s no wonder that the doctors at the Mission Neighborhood Health Center on Shotwell Street see between two and four patients every day for respiratory treatment, as a medical assistant told Mission Local. At Access Health clinic at Mission and 20th, asthmatic patients are an everyday occurrence.
A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made official what Mission doctors are already diagnosing in health symptoms: our sunny, congested neighborhood has the unhealthiest air in the city, leading to greater incidences of lung problems. It’s the particulate matter — tiny specks of dust, dirt, smoke and soot — in the air, and San Francisco has plenty of it.
Tons of traffic, dense living, and four major highways cutting through San Francisco have taken a toll on residents’ lungs — causing respiratory problems like lung disease and asthma. Generally speaking, the report found that the health of the city gets worse from west to east, and the Mission has the highest overall cumulative negative health indicators.
But the report also found an interesting anomaly. If you want a breath of fresh air in the Mission, head to the outskirts. While the Outer Mission — south of Cesar Chavez — had the same levels of negative health indicators overall, residents there suffered significantly lower levels of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that includes bronchitis and emphysema. The Inner Mission bears the brunt, with hospitalization rates for COPD six times higher than its outer neighbor, according to the study.
That’s because one of the biggest fighters of pollution is open space and vegetation, something the Outer Mission boasts, with less commerce and more backyards than the more densely constructed Inner Mission — which usually has little room between houses and small backyards. The Outer Mission, in fact, boasts three times the number of trees and nearly 10 times the number of vegetative surfaces than the blocks north of Cesar Chavez, which the doctors say makes the difference in the occurrence of lung problems. (The better lung health remains despite the Outer Mission’s larger number of families living in high congestion corridors and close to industrial sources of pollution).
The study indicated a new slew of tree planting could freshen the air, but a recent Examiner story explains how the Mission needs to step up greening efforts in 2014 to make an impact.
It’s not just cars making the air dirty. The Mission’s dozens of restaurants within a small radius draws in crowds, but puffs out smoke. According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, commercial cooking contributes four percent of particulate matter in the region.
Yet that rate is dwarfed by the pollution created by wood smoke: a whopping 38 percent of fine particulate matter comes from wood-burning stoves. While the Bay Area’s 1.4 million fireplaces are the main culprit, wood-burning ovens — which are popular in many of Mission’s Italian restaurants — also contribute. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District exempted restaurants from Spare the Air Days — those days in which they ask Bay Area residents not to drive or light fires — in order to not put them out of business.
Still, not all is negative for Mission dwellers. The MIT study found San Francisco as a whole — the pulsing Mission included — to be healthier than most cities, thanks to access to healthy food and an abundance of cyclists, walkers and park-lovers. It may be bad here, but it’s still better than L.A. (And we’re only talking about our air).