New technology allows for better measurement of the link between air contamination and health problems.

Scientists have long studied the effects of pollution on human health, applying the level and type of pollutants in an area to the general health risks of a population. For example, residents in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood have an elevated risk of heart problems and asthma due to the close proximity of the Fisk and Crawford coal-burning power plants. While this information is helpful for people hoping to avoid living in this, and similar, highly polluted areas, what it ignores is the risk to the individual. Not everyone in Chicago’s Little Village has asthma, nor will they develop the problem. Why, if everyone in an area is exposed to the same pollutants, are some people affected and others aren’t?

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