Pollution Poses Greatest
Risk to Youngest Kids
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Air pollution
has a greater impact on infants than on adults, and pollution
regulations should be developed with young children's health in
mind, say researchers in South Korea.
By looking at death records for
children as young as one month old to adults older than 65 and
comparing them to levels of air pollution on the days of those
deaths, they determined that children less than 2 years old are
most vulnerable to air pollution.
"To our knowledge," they write,
"this is the first study to determine that infants are the most
susceptible age group after directly comparing to other age groups."
Dr. Eun-Hee Ha and colleagues from
the Ewha Womans University and Seoul National University conducted
the study, which is published in the February issue of the journal
The researchers looked at types
of air pollution in Seoul that are present in cities around the
They measured the amount of minute
particles called particulates; carbon monoxide, which is produced
by vehicle exhaust; nitrogen dioxide, the brown vapor emitted
by automobiles; sulfur dioxide, a byproduct of factories that
burn oil and coal; and ozone, a key ingredient of urban smog.
For all age groups, the total number
of deaths increased on days that air pollution was the worst.
The effect was more pronounced
in children less than 2 years of age. Mortality increased by 14.2%
for each 42.9 parts per million rise in particulate matter. Newborns
up to one month old were not included in the study.
People older than 65 were also
more prone to death on days that pollutant levels were high.
Deaths due to respiratory illness
for all age groups were higher on days that the concentration
of air pollution was elevated, but highest among young children.
The researchers acknowledge that
while underlying disease, as well as exposure to smoking, can
affect the likelihood of death from respiratory and other causes,
these factors remained constant and air pollution was the factor
that varied day to day. The researchers did account for cold temperatures,
since cold weather is known to trigger asthma.
Dr. Michael Shannon, director of
the Environmental Health Center at Children's Hospital in Boston,
told Reuters Health that children exposed to air pollution at
a young age have an increased risk for improper lung development,
which can cause complications later in life.
He says the problem with environmental
policy is that regulators have always based pollution decisions
on health effects seen in adults.
"Children are not small adults,"
said Shannon. "Children are disproportionately affected by the
same amount of air pollution when compared to adults."
The researchers conclude that the
results of their study have "serious implications on the air pollution
criteria, which should be based on the effects on infant health
rather than on adult health."
Shannon says parents and pediatricians
can help protect children from environmental pollutants by understanding
the air quality index that is published for cities across the
country everyday. He says there may be days when the index shows
it would be best to keep children indoors.
SOURCE: Pediatrics 2003;111:284-290.
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