Exposure to pollution has long been a concern for families across the Bay Area, from the waterfront industries in Oakland and Pittsburg to the oil refineries in Benicia and Martinez to the clogged freeways that traverse the South Bay and Peninsula.

In Alameda County, the asthma hospitalization rate -- 20.3 stays for every 10,000 children -- is nearly twice the state average and the third-highest in California, after Imperial and Fresno counties. Some Oakland neighborhoods send children to the hospital two or three times as often as that.

What is being done to address this serious health problem?

To find out, The Oakland Tribune will hold a public forum entitled "Asthma -- The Battle To Breath," from 6 to 8 p.m. March 20 at Cal State East Bay's Oakland Center, 1000 Broadway, Suite 109.

The event is free and open to the public. Space is limited.

Joining the discussion will be Joel Ervice, associate director, Regional Asthma Management and Prevention; Brenda Rueda-Yamashita, chronic disease program director, Alameda County Public Health Department; and Dr. Washington Burns, executive director, Prescott-Joseph Center.

Also on the panel will be McClymonds High School graduate Pamela Tapia, who wrote a piece about her battle with asthma for a recent series on the disease by Tribune education reporter Katy Murphy and freelance photographer Alison Yin.

Tapia will be joined by student-journalist Pearl Joy Balagot, who will talk about what she discovered when researching how the Oakland Unified School District manages field trip protocols for students with asthma.

Moderating the discussions will be Murphy and Martin G. Reynolds, Bay Area News Group senior editor for community engagement.

For more information, contact Reynolds at mymedialab@bayareanewsgroup.com or call 510-208-6433.

To RSVP for the forum, go to http://svy.mk/YZSTWb.