Study: Children’s Health Benefits Linked to Calif. Air Quality Gains
Children's respiratory health in Southern California has significantly improved as the area's air has become cleaner over the last 20 years, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Orange County Register reports.
Details of Study
The study, which was conducted by University of Southern California researchers, consisted of periodic health tests among 2,100 children starting in 1993. Lung strength was determined by how much air and how hard children could blow into a spirometer device (Danelski, Orange County Register, 3/5).
The researchers measured lung development of the children annually as they aged from about 11 to 15 years old. The study compared the progress of children in three separate groups:
- 1994 to 1998;
- 1997 to 2001; and
- 2007 to 2011 (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 3/4).
In earlier results, the researchers found that children in communities with high levels of air pollution had stunted lung development and were at risk of developing respiratory health problems.
The newest results focused on areas that had high air pollution levels but also had experienced reductions in nitrogen dioxide and fine particle matter in the last 20 years. Specifically, the study focused on children in:
- Jurupa Valley;
- Long Beach;
- San Dimas; and
- Upland (Orange County Register, 3/5).
According to the study, levels of nitrogen dioxide in the five cities dropped by an average of 33% during the study period, and fine particle pollution fell by an average of 47%.
As air quality improved, the percentage of children with poor lung function dropped from an average of 7.9% in the mid-1990s to 3.6% in 2011 (Barboza, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 3/4). In comparison, the percentage of children with low lung function in some clean-air California cities is about 2.5%, according to the Register (Orange County Register, 3/5).
Meanwhile, improved air quality was associated with health benefits among male and female children with different racial backgrounds and those with and without asthma, suggesting "that all children have the potential to benefit from improvements in air quality," according to the study ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 3/4).
James Gauderman, lead author of the study, said that the results show that the 1970 Clean Air Act, which required the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards and limits for various pollutants, seems to be working.
However, Terry Roberts, executive director of the American Lung Association's Inland offices, said there still is work to be done, as Southern California missed the 2015 goal for meeting the fine-particle pollution standard. He said, "The Clean Air Act is working, but we have to make sure it is not eroded" (Orange County Register, 3/5).
Still, Douglas Dockery -- a professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health -- in an editorial accompanying the study wrote, "We should expect that these benefits could also be seen in other parts of the United States" ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 3/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.