Even relatively “low” levels of common air pollution damage the lung functioning of children, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care.
The study found that children living within 100 meters of a major highway had, on average, lung function around 6% lower than that of children living 400 or more meters away from major highways.
The lead author of the study, and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, Mary B Rice, MD, MPH, commented: “Few studies have examined childhood exposure to air pollution after the dramatic improvements in air quality of the 1990s to see if exposure to air pollution at these lower levels is linked to children’s lung function.”
The above comment is in reference to the fact that fine-particulate matter (PM2.5) air-pollution in the Boston area fell by over 30% between the years of 1996 and 2006.
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The researchers studied 614 children born to mothers who enrolled between 1999 and 2002 in Project Viva, a long-term study of women’s and children’s health in eastern Massachusetts. Authors calculated the distance from the child’s home to the nearest major highway, and estimated first year of life, lifetime and prior-year exposure to PM2.5, using satellite measurements. They also estimated first year of life, lifetime and prior-year exposure to black carbon using 148 monitoring stations.
At age eight, children underwent lung function tests. Researchers found:
- Children living the closest to major highways had the greatest reductions in their lung function.
- Recent air pollution exposures most negatively impacted lung function measures.
- Children who experienced greater improvements in air quality after the first year of life (either due to a move or changes in local pollution around the home) had better lung function compared to those whose air quality did not improve as much.
Cora S Sack, MD, of the University of Washington, commented: “These important findings are from a novel study combining modern modeling of exposures to air pollution with robust measurements of lung function, conducted in a community with pollutant levels now under EPA standards. This adds to the urgency for more work to understand the impacts of these low-level exposures on human health.”
Image Credit: Atlantacitizen at Wikipedia