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Man Who Took On Pollen Honored

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Anyone in Albuquerque knows how painful allergies can be — for some people, the coughing, sneezing, watery nose and eyes are so intense they can’t leave the house.

But about 18 years ago, a retired government scientist named Elmer Neuman decided to take on the root of the issue, campaigning for an ordinance that prohibits the sale of potently allergenic trees in the city.

On Aug. 1, the city will issue a proclamation to recognize Neuman’s efforts.

The ordinance, adopted in 1994 and amended since, also requires the city Environmental Health Department to announce pollen counts every day. The city’s pollen counts haven’t gone down since the sale of the potent pollen trees was prohibited, but neither have they gone up, and 97-year-old Neuman is optimistic the ordinance will make Albuquerque a better place to live in the coming decades.

Neuman himself suffered from extreme allergies — he went through five years of immunizing injections to alleviate his congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and inflamed throat.

Allergies aren’t uncommon in Albuquerque, said Dr. Bruce Feldman, an allergist in private practice. The climate is suitable for many very allergenic trees — such as cypress, some junipers, mulberry, most cottonwoods and poplars, and elm — and the air is too dry to weigh the pollen down with humidity.

Add the city’s legendary winds, and it’s no wonder so many people are affected.

Given all that, said former Environmental Health Department botanist Larry Caudill, “certainly you wouldn’t want to make it worse by planting the wrong trees in your backyard.”

If you are looking for trees for your backyard, generally look for trees that blossom. The flowers are meant to attract pollenating insects, not release the pollen into the air.

But even if you have all the right trees, Albuquerque has secondary allergy seasons caused by pollen from grasses in the late spring to early summer, and weeds like sagebrush and ragweed in late summer.

Neuman, with his allergist, took his fight to then-Mayor Martin Chávez. Chávez got the City Council to approve an ordinance in 1994 that would label trees in nurseries as highly allergenic.

During the next two years, Neuman, who was in his early 80s, campaigned tirelessly to get the sale of those trees banned entirely. Eventually, the ordinance was amended, and the sale of those trees was prohibited.

“What a great exhilaration,” Neuman remembered.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal