We all know air pollution is not great for your health, but two new studies this week stressed just how bad it can be for children, infants and the developing fetus. Exposure to air pollution at a young age, these studies showed, can lead to an array of long-lasting health problems, including asthma and autism.
It’s not just that polluted air can, say, trigger asthma attacks. Now, researchers are finding that exposure to air pollution may actually cause some diseases.
“We’re discovering some of the long-term effects of this air pollution: things like lung development in kids,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
“Communities should be informed of what they’re breathing.” — Paul Cort, Earthjustice
led by UCSF found that African American and Latino infants living in communities with high automobile exhaust are more likely to develop childhood asthma than those living with less pollution. This is significant because minority communities are more likely to live near congested roadways.
In California, African Americans and multi-racial people have some of the highest rates of asthma, according to the CDC. But rigorous scientific studies that examine just how the lungs of minority children develop when swamped with car exhaust have been rare. Continue reading
Tylenol is a brand name of the drug acetaminophen. (Flickr/ Allen)
A study published earlier this month in Pediatrics finds a strong association between the use of acetaminophen and asthma, both in symptoms and number of cases, for children and adults.
John McBride, Director of the Respiratory Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, reviewed studies going back more than a decade, one of which looked at 300,000 children around the world. “Looking at the data,” he said, “it’s quite likely that acetaminophen is a problem for patients that have asthma.”
The association between asthma and acetaminophen, which many people know by the brand name, Tylenol, caught him by surprise, he says. “I read the literature and was stunned. I decided the people who really needed to know were primary are physicians and patients.”
“The children who took acetaminophen were twice as likely to be seen for an asthma attack.”
Among the most compelling studies was one done in 2000 at Boston University. Ironically, it was a follow up to research that had established the safety of ibuprofen.
The ibuprofen study followed 84,000 children with a fever who were randomly treated with either ibuprofen or acetaminophen. In 2000, researchers looked at the 1800 children who had previously been diagnosed with asthma. “The children who took acetaminophen were twice as likely to be seen for an asthma attack than kids who got ibuprofen, and the more acetaminophen they took, the more likely they were to be seen for an asthma attack,” McBride learned.
Sunset through a Polluted Bakersfield Sky. (Andy Castro: Flickr)
Earlier this month, KQED’s Sasha Khokha reported Central Valley residents’ concerns that the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District was not effectively communicating public health warnings on poor air quality days.
Just hours after that report aired, State of Health brought news that the Valley Air District had issued an air quality alert using significantly stronger language than it had used before. Air quality activists were pleased with the new tone.
Today, air quality activists are cheering again. California Governor Jerry Brown appointed a new member to the Valley Air District board. And not just anyone, but a physician with a long background in public health. The new appointee, Dr. Alex Sherriffs, is a professor at UCSF-Fresno in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He also has been in private practice in Fowler since 1983.
This post originally appeared in KQED’s NewsFix on November 1, 2011.
Water polo tournament at Fresno's Sunnyside High goes on, despite air quality so poor that school districts are supposed to cancel outdoor activities. (Photo: Sasha Khokha)
Today, KQED’s Sasha Khokha outlines how the lack of effective air monitoring policy in the San Joaquin Valley could be harming the people who live there. As she reports, a recent study from UCSF Fresno and CSU Fresno [PDF] finds a direct link between air pollution and asthma-related ER visits. The study found what researchers call a “linear association” between certain components of air pollution and asthma ER visits. In other words, as air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.
The San Joaquin Valley has some of the dirtiest air in the country and high rates of childhood asthma.
As air pollution goes up, the likelihood of an asthmatic child heading to the ER goes up, too.
The culprits are two components of air pollution: ground-level ozone
and particulate matter
. Ground-level ozone can have corrosive effects on the lungs, decreasing lung function. Particulate matter are tiny particles, like soot. The simple act of breathing carries these particles deep into the lungs where they stick and can cause breathing and heart problems.