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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The drying Salton Sea and asthma: A perspective on a “natural” disaster

  • Author(s): Biddle, Trevor;
  • Chakraborty, Rajrupa;
  • Li, Qi;
  • Maltz, Mia;
  • Gerrard, Jo;
  • Lo, David D
  • et al.

The Salton Sea is a drying salt lake in an arid region with high aerosol particulate-matter concentrations. This region is plagued by a high incidence of asthma, attributed in part to the aerosols surrounding the Sea. But the connection between the Sea and asthma may be more than simple calculations of dust concentrations. While dusts might contain toxic substances that impact the lungs of residents, the complex dynamics related to the environmental degradation of the Salton Sea may be generating additional toxins relevant to public health, such as microcystins produced by algal blooms. This collection of pollutants may be driving inflammatory responses in the lungs of residents through multiple mechanisms. As such, examination of the full range of potential environmental triggers of lung inflammation promises to yield a better understanding of key mechanisms driving the high incidence of asthma in local residents. Our discussion provides a perspective aiming to re-frame the issue in the context of the historical theory of “miasma” and the linkages between environmental change and health impacts.

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