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NAPLES, Italy — An asthma study released this week recommends that U.S. Navy medical officials in Naples consider the city’s air quality as part of the overseas medical screening process for sailors, particularly those with respiratory problems such as persistent asthma.

The study, conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, showed a noticeable increase in the severity of asthma symptoms in adults with persistent asthma in Naples, compared with similar patients in Rota, Spain, and Sigonella, Sicily.

“Each location takes into account its own unique medical factors to determine a servicemember’s suitability,” said Navy Lt. Matt Gill, a spokesman for the Naples base.

For 13 months, the health center collected samples of air quality at nine monitoring stations set up in areas where servicemembers and civilian employees live in Naples. The asthma study looked for the presence of PM10s — small particulate matter one-fifth the width of a human hair — and for Acrolein, a colorless or yellow liquid that can quickly change into a vapor when trees, tobacco, other plants, gasoline and oil are burned.

Both substances can aggravate asthma symptoms.

The study found “a weak, positive association between increasing PM10 levels and being categorized as a persistent asthmatic in the U.S. NH Naples population.”

Based on the results, “[U.S. Naval Hospital Naples] should consider the impact of the air quality on those with documented respiratory problems, especially persistent asthma, prior to granting an overseas medical screening waiver,” the study’s summary reads.

Two years ago, Italy’s regional environmental agency, Agenzia Regionale Protezione Ambientale Campania — similar to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — set up dozens of air monitoring stations that indicated five major cities in Campania repeatedly surpassed acceptable levels of PM10s. The cities included Naples, Avellino and Caserta.

On occasion, Naples officials ban driving in certain areas in an attempt to bring levels down to an acceptable range.

In addition to air sampling, the Navy also has conducted water and soil tests at several hundred homes leased by U.S. servicemembers and civilian personnel over the past two years. Findings of chemical and bacterial contamination prompted the Navy to provide free drinking water to off-base residents, test water supplied at newly leased homes and establish off-limits areas for leasing.

The final phase of the health assessment is expected to be done in July. Initially due out late last year, the date was pushed back to include the air sampling results.

“We still have to complete the validation and analysis,” Gill said. “It’s taking a little longer than expected, but we want to make sure we get this right. We have to be diligent with our analysis. It’s important to the community and to the Navy.”

novakl@estripes.osd.mil

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