PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — How common is asthma among area school children? Higher than the national average. That’s what a new study says, led by asthma specialists at Allegheny General Hospital.

“That’s very concerning,” says lead investigator Dr. Deborah Gentile.

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This initial study involved surveys, breathing tests, and checking the local air pollution, saliva for markers of second hand smoke, and stress hormones.

Among nearly 300 5th graders from 12 Pittsburgh area schools, physician-diagnosed asthma was almost 29 percent, and 12 percent were at risk of developing it.

“The schools that participated are near point sources of pollution,” says Dr. Gentile.

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Participation was about 50 percent. Parents who did not have kids with asthma may not have consented to take part.

According to the CDC, it affects just 9 percent of children nationwide.

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“We’re actually doing a mobile van unit that goes out every two to four weeks. And we’re actually treating these children who have asthma,” she adds.

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This is the first study of its kind to find out if there are pockets of the problem in Allegheny County. Pockets were found in Woodland Hills, Clairton, and Northgate. The findings are being presented at a summit of area asthma experts here in Pittsburgh.