Car pollution puts child health at risk
From The Sydney Morning Herald:
Car pollution is creating asthma-like symptoms in otherwise healthy children, and potentially affecting their lung growth, according to a report that suggests Australia's air-quality standards should be upgraded.
A study of 2860 primary school children representing most states revealed nitrogen dioxide (NO2), found in motor vehicle exhaust, was present in the lungs of two thirds of the students tested at the 55 sample schools. The schools were chosen near to air quality testing stations, so results could be cross-checked with daily pollutant levels.
In the cases where NO2 was detected in children's lungs, the researchers consistently found those children experienced ''asthma-like'' symptoms, including ''wheeze''. Their lung volume was reduced and their airways inflamed. Researchers concluded the NO2 was not producing typical asthma, but a non-specific lung effect, which did not improve with asthma medication. ''Although air pollution levels are relatively low in most regions of Australia, they may not be low enough to prevent adverse health effects,'' the report warned.
The study found children inhaled and retained more air pollution per unit of body weight than adults, partly because they played outdoors, and that pollution had a greater impact on children because their lungs were still developing. While the impacts measured were small, long-term exposure to NO2 could affect them into adult life, the report warned.
National Environment Protection Council commissioned the Australian Child Health and Air Pollution Study, partly to fill gaps in scientific knowledge on the effect of local pollutants on children. It was designed to contribute to the National Environment Protection Measure standards review which was to be updated by 2008 but has been delayed. The council comprises state and federal environment ministers, and sets the standards.
The report called for major reductions in particulate matter (airborne fine particles of soot), carbon dioxide, NO2 and ozone, saying there were many pollutants without a safe ''threshold''. The report suggested this be done by limiting motor vehicle emissions, investing in more public transport and through better urban design.
Doctors for the Environment Australia spokeswoman Marion Carey criticised the time taken to review the air standards.
''We have enough information now to act,'' Dr Carey said. ''We should be translating this knowledge into practical policy and action to protect everyone's health, especially our children's.''
Among children studied, 270 with asthma were asked to keep a diary of their respiratory health. The diaries showed children with asthma had increased coughing, wheezing and medication use when exposed to NO2. They were also affected by carbon dioxide, and particulate matter.
Asthma Foundation figures show that one in nine children and one in 10 adults suffer from asthma.
Asthma Foundation NSW chief executive officer Michele Goldman said Australia's air monitoring was 10 years behind the rest of the world despite compelling evidence of harm.
"Studies have shown that children constantly exposed to cigarette smoke or traffic fumes are three times more likely to develop asthma," she said.
Lucas Dew, 10, of Newport, had his first ambulance trip with an asthma attack four years ago and has had three since. His father, Simon Dew, said there was only one mild asthma case in the family before Lucas, and he believes nearby factories, including the Newport power station and Mobil at Altona, which both emit NO2, may be a factor in his son's condition.
The study's principal investigator, Professor Gail Williams, and co-investigator Professor Guy Marks refused to discuss the findings until the report's official release next month.