Five area casinos fail air quality test, health groups say

Posted: 6/20/2011

From The Kansas City Star:

Health advocates are warning gamblers that they may be risking their health along with their money when they play at local casinos.

A study released Monday by two area health organizations found unhealthy levels of air pollution on the smoky gaming floors of five area casinos.

There's enough smoke in the air, the study said, that full-time casino employees are chronically exposed to more particulate pollution than the Environmental Protection Agency's limit for eight-hour work shifts.

The health groups, Clean Air Metro KC and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, called on cities to ban smoking at casinos.

"We encourage our area city councils to recognize that the health of casino customers and employees is no less valuable than that of customers and employees in other work and public places," foundation chairman Norm Siegel said.

Casinos often receive exemptions to clean indoor air laws. That special treatment has put gaming establishments on the front lines in recent battles over whether to curb or extend legal restrictions on smoking.

Nationwide, city councils and state legislatures have fought over including casinos in their smoking bans.

Casinos insist that their business relies disproportionately on smokers, while health advocates point to profitable casinos in states where smoking isn't allowed.

Meanwhile, casino workers have sued employers over health problems, from asthma to cancer, allegedly caused by constant exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

"This seems to be the last bastion of resistance to clean indoor air policies," said Stanley Cowan, a University of Missouri researcher who wrote the Kansas City casino study. "Casinos are now where bars were five or 10 years ago."

Kansas City, with two casinos, and North Kansas City, with one, both have indoor smoking bans that exempt gaming areas. Riverside also has a casino but does not have indoor smoking restrictions. Kansas has a clean indoor air law, but it exempts state-owned casinos.

Mayor Sly James of Kansas City said during his campaign this year that he would support ending the casino exemption.

James said Monday that he would read the new report carefully.

"This is a serious issue raised by one of our community's health care pillars," he said in a statement. "Any response will need to be coordinated among area municipalities, and I will be interested in hearing what next steps the (foundation) will propose."

Mike Winter of the Missouri Gaming Association, a casino industry trade group, said his organization would wait to comment until "after we've had an opportunity to see what kind of research they've done and study results."

The study was conducted by researchers who visited the Argosy, Ameristar, Harrah's, Isle of Capri and 7th Street casinos carrying small, easy-to-hide gadgets to measure particulate pollution. They spent at least a half hour on the gaming floor of each casino and counted the number of people and how many were smoking. They took similar measurements in nonsmoking areas.

Two of the casinos had pollution levels considered unhealthy for people with heart or lung diseases. The three others had levels unhealthy for all people. Air quality in only one casino nonsmoking area was categorized as good. The study didn't identify casinos by name.

The study also found that just under 17 percent of the people in the casinos’ smoking areas were actively smoking.

“This shows that it doesn’t take a lot of cigarettes to cause a lot of pollution,” Cowan said.

Fine particulate pollution can come from cigarettes, auto tailpipes and even burgers on a grill.

The tiny particles work their way into the lungs, where they cause inflammation and aggravate asthma, emphysema and other respiratory diseases.

Particulates also are suspected of contributing to heart attacks.

Original here.