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Air Pollution Poses Greatest
Risk to Youngest Kids
Excerpt By Stephanie Riesenman, Reuters Health

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 Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at types of air pollution in Seoul that are present in cities around the world.

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.


Reference Source 89

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