The Harm of Vehicular Pollutants on Asthmatic Children

Pollution greatly exacerbates respiratory problems in asthmatic children, Mexican researchers have recently observed. While this general result is perhaps unsurprising, the specifics of the types of pollution and subsequent harm of each analyzed in the study, makes it important and hopefully progressive.

Past research has suggested that vehicular pollution is directly correlated to the incidence of respiratory problems within cities. Diesel fumes had been shown to be the most harmful, though all forms of exhaust displayed varying levels of harmfulness. Given that within most world cities, vehicular pollutants accounts for the majority of air pollutants, these findings were significant, though somewhat unspecific, and did not address the effect of pollution on the developing lungs of children.

The study was conducted on children in Mexico City, one of the most crowded and polluted places in the world. The children were between 6-14 years of age, 147 being asthmatic and 50 being non-asthmatic. Researchers recorded the levels of diesel, ozone and nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, three abundant pollutants, during the study. The study was further specified by recording the surrounding environment of each individual participant, most notably the amount of traffic, and the type (such as diesel trucks vs. normal highway traffic). Parents recorded the amount of coughing and wheezing experienced by their children, and the types of medications and treatments they administered.

It was found that asthmatic children were more likely to live in highly polluted areas (suggesting a potential cause for some asthma cases), and were also more likely to have worsening symptoms and increasing medicine usage. Highly polluted areas were, not surprisingly, areas with higher levels of traffic. Large trucks and buses, which often run on diesel, and small petrol-running buses, appeared most responsible for the worsening of symptoms in asthmatic conditions. Of the non-asthmatic children, only higher nitrogen dioxide levels appeared responsible for worsening symptoms.

All forms of pollution are believed to have adverse effects on both environmental and human health, with varying degrees of severity. Vehicular pollution is by far the most abundant and identifiable, however, and most likely causes the most harm. While more progressive developed nations, such as the United States, parts of Europe, and Japan, have been placing firmer restriction on exhaust fumes, and taken steps towards developing alternative fuel sources, less-developed nations are not nearly at that stage. Countries like Mexico, India, China and numerous countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, are densely populated, both with people and vehicles. It’s hopeful that studies like the above, which show the importance of limiting vehicular pollution in protecting child health, will lead to attempts to clean up the problem on a global scale.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Baldwin, Graeme. Romieu, Isabelle. BioMed Central news release. November 2008.