Confirmed: Traffic Pollution Can Cause Asthma In Kids (Not Just Trigger It)

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Southern California traffic - by flickr user David R. Blume

Southern California traffic - by flickr user David R. Blume

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It's long been suspected, but a new European survey confirms it: Children living near areas of heavy traffic are more at risk of asthma.

Previously, it was thought that pollution from traffic might only be a trigger for the condition, but the Los Angeles Times reports on a European study that it can also be a cause.

The study, covered in the European Respiratory Journal, examined the health of children in ten cities.

14 percent of chronic asthma cases in children were attributed to near-road traffic pollution. It's the first time such a study has made a direct link between vehicular pollution and asthma cases, despite it being suspected for many years.

Dr. Laura Perez of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute was the report's lead author.

"This is the first time we have estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution," she said.

"In light of all the existing epidemiological studies showing that road-traffic contributes to the onset of the disease in children, we must consider these results to improve policy making and urban planning."

It's another string to the bow of electric vehicles, which produce zero local emissions--though it's also worth pointing out that in recent years, automakers have made huge strides in cleaning up their combustion engines.

Legislation in the U.S, Europe and elsewhere is stricter than ever with regards to air pollution, and the cars made today are a far cry from those that roamed the smog-choked streets of Los Angeles and other cities in the 1970s and 1980s.

But for families bringing up children, the best option for your kids' health is to avoid living in an area too heavily populated by traffic--it really can be bad for their health.


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Comments (8)
  1. I read a similar study in the US about 10 years ago where they see a correlation between the distance of residence to interstate hwy and Asthma rate in children. The zones were divided into less than few hundreds ft, 1/2 mile and then more than 1 mile radius. There were significant increase in asthma rate in the first 2 zones.

    The cause was suspected to be the diesel emission, especially the particulates and soot emission. The study didn't find similar increase in less commercial area where the diesel uses is less. They also contributes most of that to the trucking and heavy industrial usage of diesel fuels where the emission standards are lower.

    I wonder if the popular diesel usage affects European City emission even more.

  2. I've not seen statistics, but London is supposed to be particularly bad, largely down to heavy diesel bus and taxi traffic. There was a point where buildings on major routes would be visibly blackened by decades of pollution (as they might be alongside an old railway) and the curbs alongside bus stops were black from diesel soot...

    Makes me glad I live in a smaller, less-trafficked town...

  3. @Antony: As someone whose parents lived in London before 1964, I have to point out that much of the black coating on buildings in London came not from diesel exhaust but from coal soot.

    For a century and a half (until it was largely banned in 1964), coal was the dominant heating fuel in London--and burning it in open-grate fireplaces produced a phenomenal amount of soot, far worse than anything today produced by diesel particulates.

    My mum recalls coming home from even short trips to the shops in the High Street with a visible "V" of soot on her shirt where her coat had been open ... and it's taken half a century to wash most of that off the buildings in London!

  4. Dear John
    Visible soot is bad, but large particles are easily filtered by efficient mechanisms of the respiratory system and removed. hats is why smokers suffer more: cig smoke inactivates the cilia which move the mucus up the trachea to be swallowed and eliminated. Catalytic converters however break the carbon particles into nano-particles and those float right by the mucus and cilia to reach the lungs, blood and then the brain
    Y Brandstetter MD

  5. The combustion is not cleaned up. Its made into smaller particles and those can actually cause more damage, to the the brains of unborn children and in the first year of life. Its been shown in peer reviewed medical publication from USC.
    Y Brandstetter MD

  6. Picking on kids is for predators. To gas them with diesel exhaust, one of the most toxic substances ever tested according to Japanese researchers, is a crime.

    It's time for a moratorium on diesel fuels, and to track back various health expenses directly to the combustion of products such as oil.

    We now have the technology to determine exactly what particles come from exactly where, and to thereby name and shame the companies who are responsible.

    Make 'em pay.


  7. I am surprised that the famous Diesel Fan "Annatar" hasn't flamed you for this...

  8. Yes, we do have the technology to determine exactly what particles come from exactly where, and diesel sources are, and have been for at least the past few decades, a relatively small contributor to ambient PM2.5 in the U.S., based on EPA/CARB emissions inventories, direct measurements, certified emissions, modeling assumptions (GREET1_2012), and source-apportionment studies (generally around 2%, with EPA projections of around 0.5% by 2030).

    PM2.5 emissions from diesel engines have been addressed (DPF). Why is there not as much concern about the other 98% of anthropogenic PM2.5?

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