Study links traffic pollution to 10pc of childhood asthma cases

13 April, 2019, 07:42 | Author: Sherman Richardson
  • Guardian Graphic  Source Achakulwisut et al Lancet Planetary Health

Three in ten child asthma cases in some parts of Britain are caused by traffic pollution, a major global study has found.

Globally, the study suggests there are 170 new cases of traffic pollution-related asthma per 100,000 children every year, and 13 per cent of childhood asthma cases diagnosed each year are linked to traffic pollution. Although it is not yet clear which specific pollutant within the traffic-related air pollution mixture is the source of asthma development, reviews by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada suggest that a causal relationship is likely to exist between long-term nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exposure and childhood asthma development.

Children are especially vulnerable to toxic air and exposure is also known to leave them with stunted lungs, the report said.

The researchers tracked these numbers from 2010 through 2015, finding that over four million children developed asthma annually in direct relation to their exposure to nitrogen dioxide.

That will involve issuing alerts for air pollution whenever the EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI) monitoring network shows an excessive amount of suspended particles, including PM2.5, and harmful gases in the air per cubic meter.

"Improving access to cleaner forms of transportation, like electric public transport and active commuting by cycling and walking, would not only lower NO2 levels but would also reduce asthma, enhance physical fitness and cut greenhouse gas emissions", Anenberg said. Numerous solutions aimed at cleaning up the air would not only prevent new cases of asthma and other serious health problems but they would also attenuate global warming, Anenberg said.

Scientists say the fumes may damage airways, leading to inflammation and the development of asthma in children who are genetically predisposed to it.

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An estimated 4 million children developed asthma each year from 2010 to 2015 due to exposure to NO2 pollution, which primarily comes motor vehicle exhaust. This data on risks was used to calculate the number of new cases around the world.

By city, Lima in Peru has the highest rate of new childhood asthma cases due to traffic pollution. An estimated 235 million people worldwide now have asthma, which can cause wheezing as well as life-threatening attacks.

Professor Rajen N. Naidoo concurred with Dr Anenberg's assessment, commenting that "An important outcome from this study is the further evidence that the existing World Health Organization standards are not protective against childhood asthma". Indonesia (160,000) and Brazil (140,000) had the next largest burdens.

"The good news is that a transition to zero-emission vehicles is already underway", she said.

The researchers cited London's introduction of a new ultra-low emission zone and the Chinese city of Shenzhen's electrification of its entire bus fleet as examples of urban authorities taking action. "But this transition needs to become global, and it needs to happen faster".

Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "We used to think the only real danger roads posed to children was the threat of a vehicle accident".

"However now we can see there's an equally deadly risk; breathing in illegal levels of air pollution and getting a respiratory disease like asthma, or growing up to have smaller, weaker lungs".

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