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Air Quality

Published on April 15th, 2016 | by James Ayre

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Even Low Levels Of Air Pollution Damage Children’s Lungs

April 15th, 2016 by  


Originally published on EV Obsession.

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.

Highway air pollution

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.

Green Car Congress provides more:

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

Reprinted with permission.






About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • sjc_1

    That picture could have been one of the few clear days in L.A. after a wind.

  • hybridbear

    Eliminating ICE pollution is the number 1 reason why I drive an EV! I hate having to breathe in vehicle exhaust.

    • cynthia Irene

      Yes. yes. yes.

    • sjc_1

      According to the previous administration not everyone is doing it so forget it.

    • Carl Raymond S

      Tricky bit is to find somebody who is going where you’re going, swap cars, and drive behind them.

  • BigWu

    Yet more proof that putting children in diesel smoke belching school busses is an astoundingly bad practice.

    EV school busses should be phased in as soon as practicable.

    • athbr

      Smoke is only one of the pollutants. Automobiles produce other pollutants like tire dust that is equally harmful. A diesel school bus is still better than 50 cars. Cities need to prioritize walking, biking, and mass transit if they want to truly make a dent on pollution.

      • JamesWimberley

        Googling, I found an estimate that tyres and brake pads are responsible for 3%-7% of the PM10 particulate pollution in cuties. So it’s harmful, but “equally” is an exaggeration.
        A BBC journalist took a portable pollution meter with him for a period of normal travel. He found very high levels in the London Underground – iron particles from the rails and wheels.

      • cynthia Irene

        Yes, and make it so the finer footprints of the pedestrian lungs are not suffering due to others air pollutants.

    • cynthia Irene

      Or before what is considered practical. There have laws against hurting children yet; society accepts that children should ride or walk by toxic buses when the clean technology is out there. Take the money from the fossil fuel industry to pay for them as compensation for hurting the children already hurt by rampant air pollution from car fumes.

  • JamesWimberley

    Still waiting for the air pollution denialists to show up and tell us that Harvard MDs in WHITE COATS with magic STETHOSCOPES are all part of a communist/money grubbing conspiracy. Hello? Hello?

    • wattleberry

      Amen. I suppose the only glimmer of hope is that, while we wait, and wait, the speed of technological progress, mostly by the little guys, is such that the remedy gets more and more efficient and affordable.

      • JamesWimberley

        There is a lot of positive talk coming out of big city halls on air pollution, even some action. It’s not hurting Boris Johnson in London. This is an area to watch, as cities have the power to force rapid change on buses, taxis, and devivery vans.

    • Roger Lambert

      Even docs from Harvard conduct lousy studies. It’s the study design and power which determines the success of a study, not the institution who hires a study investigator as a teacher. So, the question is – is this a good study, and how does it align with similar studies? And the answer is – we don’t have any idea. This is just a press release.

      One would expect to see that more exposure to black soot decreases lung function. And this is yet another almost unsung benefit of EV vehicles – billions if not trillions of dollars worth of (expected) health care savings.

      • JamesWimberley

        The report linked to the scientific reference. It’s an article in a peer-reviewed journal, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine – curiously with a London-based editor. The sample size was 614, drawn from a longitudinal study – the gold standard in epidemiology, as you can control for a host of other factors. The methods section in the article will tell you about the study design if you care to look it up. It will also discuss previous literature.

        One article does not make a consensus, but (a) these are reputable people, (b) it’s in line with earlier work on air pollution damage, and with common sense.

        • Roger Lambert

          I agree with you. The article doesn’t link to the study, tho a Googling got me there. But it is behind a paywall. The article mentions the author’s own self-critique – that only one lung-function test was administered. That suggests it is really not a longitudinal study. But I am probably missing something.

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