Air Pollution Hurting Inner-City Kids with Asthma

Using data collected from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Inner-City Asthma Study (ICAS), researchers found that inner city asthmatic children might beat greater risk to <"">air pollution at levels below those at current air quality standards.  The study analyzes the short-term effects of outdoor pollution levels on asthma symptoms and lung function in children.

Researchers examined 861 children with persistent asthma, aged five to 12 years, living in low-income areas in seven U.S. inner-city communities:  Boston, the Bronx, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Seattle, and Tucson.  Over two years, the children’s asthma symptoms, breathing function, and school absences were regularly monitored.  Researchers also obtained daily outdoor pollution measurements from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Aerometric Information Retrieval System and—every six months—tested lung function two times each day over a two-week period.  Researchers also asked the children’s parents for their observations of their children’s symptoms.
The study revealed that children had significantly decreased lung function following exposure to higher concentrations of the air pollutants sulfur dioxide, airborne fine particles, and nitrogen dioxide.  In addition, higher nitrogen dioxide levels and higher levels of fine particles were linked with asthma-related school absences.  Higher nitrogen dioxide levels were associated with increased asthma symptoms.  Nitrogen dioxide is derived mainly from motor vehicle exhaust; therefore, these data provide sound evidence that car emissions may be causing adverse respiratory health effects in these urban children who have asthma.

Disturbingly, study authors report that inner-city children with asthma experience adverse health effects from air pollutants even when air pollution levels are within the current air quality standards of the EPA.  This raises questions about the current EPA air quality standards and also points to that part of overall asthma management for children living in inner cities which may require efforts to reduce exposure to air pollutants.  Previous studies have documented the adverse respiratory effects of very high levels of outdoor pollutants, but this study involved a larger group of inner-city asthmatic children as well as a more comprehensive evaluation of respiratory health effects than any other study of its kind.

Meanwhile, another recent review, this one conducted by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that short-term exposure to smog, or ozone, is not only definitively linked to premature deaths, this information should also be taken into account when measuring the health benefits of reducing air pollution.  These findings contradict arguments made by some White House officials who argued that the connection between smog and premature death was not sufficiently established and that the number of saved lives should not be calculated in determining clean air benefits.

According to the 13-member panel, which examined short-term (24-hour) exposure to high ozone levels, “studies have yielded strong evidence that short-term exposure to ozone can exacerbate lung conditions, causing illness and hospitalization and can potentially lead to death.”  Ozone exposure is a leading cause of respiratory illnesses and especially affects the elderly, those with respiratory problems, and children.  Ground-level ozone is formed from nitrogen oxide and organic compounds that result from burning fossil fuels and presents as yellow haze or smog that lingers in the air.

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