MELROSE PARK, Ill. - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling for an air pollution test in response to recent Chicago Tribune investigative reports that Chicago commuters are exposed to high levels of toxic diesel soot. A Loyola physician who conducts the official Midwest allergy count backs Durbin and the report, saying for years he has lodged complaints with the EPA about such particulate pollution.
"Dark rings of soot and other air pollution regularly are recorded on my slides,” said Dr. Joseph Leija, an allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital of Loyola, who has performed the official Midwest allergy count for the National Allergy Bureau for more than a decade.
Dr. Leija says he has repeatedly warned the Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental air quality groups about his findings. "They keep saying the air quality is not bad – that it is better than it is – but my slides show something much different,” he said.
The National Allergy Bureau has certified Dr. Leija’s March-October allergy count as the official measure for the Midwest. "Chicago weather prevents me from polling the air year-round, but seven months out of the year, my slides provide unique documentation of the particles and of the quality of the air that we breathe,” he said.
Dr. Leija maintains a special particle-catching machine on the rooftop of the Loyola University Health System ‘s Melrose Park hospital. He is considered a regional expert on allergies and respiratory conditions in the Midwest.
“Research shows that more and more people are being diagnosed with breathing conditions in the Midwest,” he said.
Dr. Leija offers these health protection tips for Chicagoans:
• Don’t live near major roadways. "Research shows that respiratory conditions and certain health illnesses are more prevalent in those with residences close to expressways and busy traffic areas," Dr. Leija said.
• Gently rinse nasal passages with a simple saline solution daily to remove particles from entering the respiratory system. "The nostrils trap debris from the air and will dissolve debris using special enzymes, creating a solution that is further absorbed and is toxic to the respiratory system," he said. "By rinsing out the debris, you are removing pollution from entering your body."
• Keep car windows closed. "What you think is fresh air may actually be highly contaminated air," he warned. If you are driving, Dr. Leija advised using the car’s air-conditioning or heating system to limit exposure.
• Consider a cotton mask or scarf. "Many particles are insidious, they are so small. But some can be trapped by a protective cloth or gauze," Dr. Leija said.
• Leave pollutants at the door. "Shoes, coats, hats - what you are wearing in pollution also attracts grime and should be left outside the home to avoid contaminating the interior," he said. "Also wash your hair before sleeping to avoid subjection to trapped irritants."
Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 264-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.