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In Detroit, Plant Growth on Vacant Land Has Created a Pollen Problem

The reforestation of Detroit has become a problem for allergy and asthma sufferers in the area.
August 28, 2019, 1pm PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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Anders Porter

In 1950 an estimated 1.8 million people lived in Detroit; today that number is closer to 700,000. The land left behind has created an opportunity for plants to reclaim space. "Plants and weeds grow with abandon in the newly exposed soils, and, during their growing seasons, those plants release their pollen loads into the air and into Detroiters’ airways," Lucas Joel writes for Undark Magazine.

Pollen can be an irritant for allergy sufferers and it can worsen asthma attacks. "Detroit currently ranks in the top 10 cities in the U.S. for asthma-related deaths, and a 2016 report revealed that 43.2 percent of asthma-afflicted children who were enrolled in Medicaid in the city had one or more emergency room visits per year for asthma, while the same figure for children in the rest of Michigan stood at 27.5 percent," reports Joel. While the issue of public health involves more than the presence of pollen, pollen is a factor. To make matters worse, it’s difficult to track how much pollen circulates in the area. The only pollen counter is located outside the center of the city, and what’s more, experts believe that pollen counts vary even at the neighborhood level.

Daniel Katz at ​the University of Michigan School of Public Health is trying to get to the bottom the question of where the pollen is with measuring devices. Katz hopes that mapping the type and volume of pollen around the city can help better inform officials and allergy sufferers as to where the pollen is and how to deal with it.

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Published on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 in Undark Magazine
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