Direct Evidence That Air Pollution Reduces Lung Function in Children

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Direct Evidence That Air Pollution Reduces Lung Function in Children

June 6 - In too many places in Canada, more warm summer days also mean more smoggy days. Exposure to smog is bad for your health.  New evidence published today confirms the direct association between levels of outdoor air pollution and health effects in children.


There is extensive epidemiological, or population-level, evidence that indicates that exposure to air pollution is associated with reduced lung function and increases asthma attacks in children.  While such population studies are useful in showing the association between air pollution and lung health, a new study has provided direct evidence of this effect in children.  Researchers in the United Kingdom have now shown that increasing pollution levels result in more carbon particles in the lungs and reduced lung function in children.

In an article in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. N. Kulkarni and colleagues measured pollution levels in the outdoor air near children's homes.  They measured how much air the children's lung could hold and how fast they could breathe it out. They also measured the carbon particle content in macrophages from sputum samples collected from healthy children.

Macrophages are cells that act like microscopic vacuum cleaners to help keep the lung clean by sucking up particles and digesting them.

The researchers found that increases in the amount of very small particles in the outdoor air caused a dose-dependent increase in carbon particles in the lungs and decrease in lung function.

"These findings are very useful to our efforts to reduce air pollution levels in Canada," said Brian Graham, CEO of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan. "Despite hundreds of publications that demonstrate that exposure to air pollution is associated with flare-ups in lung problems such as asthma and COPD, there are still some lobbyists that claim that direct evidence between exposure and health effect is missing.  These new findings will add greatly to our arsenal of proof of the adverse health effects of air pollution."

Many people in Saskatchewan take clean air quality for granted but in reality, we have lots of room for improvement.

Currently, Saskatchewan residents with lung disease are particularly concerned about the smoke from northern forest fires. Although forest fires cannot be regulated, other types of burning can.  The Lung Association frequently receives calls from people who experience breathing problems due to stubble burning, back-yard fire pits and smoke from residential fireplaces and woodstoves. Idling diesel engines are also a major source of harmful carbon particles.

Exposure can result in increased difficulty in breathing, more asthma and COPD problems and increased risk for heart attacks. People with existing lung or heart conditions, the very young and the elderly, are particularly at risk.

"The publication of this research further strengthens our understanding of the health effects of air pollution," said Kenneth Maybee, Vice President for Environmental Issues for the Canadian Lung Association. "People can take personal action to help protect their health by following the Air Quality Index announcements provided by local media. When the air quality is poor we recommend that you reschedule outdoor activities to a time when air quality is better.  People affected by poor air quality should spend time in an indoor location that provides cleaner air, and seek medical help if their symptoms worsen."

Reference: Carbon in Airway Macrophages and Lung Function in Children
Neeta Kulkarni, Nevil Pierse, Lesley Rushton, and Jonathan Grigg
N Engl J Med 2006;355:21-30.

For more information contact:

Brian Graham 
President & CEO
Lung Association of Saskatchewan
(306) 343-9640, ext. 222

Paul Van Look
Vice President of Health Education
Lung Association of Saskatchewan
(306) 343-9640, ext. 226



When you can't breathe, nothing else matters.


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Page Last Updated: 06/06/2006