EarthTalk: Is it true that asthma cases in
children often correlate to living close to roads and all
the associated pollution-spewing traffic?
—Jake Locklear, San Diego, CA
recent study by the University of Southern California
found that at least eight percent of the more than
300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los Angeles
County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution
at homes within 250 feet of a busy roadway.
© Hemera Collection
near a roadway certainly does exacerbate asthma, especially
for kids. To wit, a recent study by the University of Southern
California (USC)—the most comprehensive by far to
date on this topic—found that at least eight percent
of the more than 300,000 cases of childhood asthma in Los
Angeles County can be attributed to traffic-related pollution
at homes within 250 feet of a busy roadway. The findings,
released in the September 2012 online edition of the peer-reviewed
journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, indicate that
previous research underestimated the effects of roadway
traffic on asthma.
findings suggest that there are large and previously unappreciated
public health consequences of air pollution in Los Angeles
County and probably other metropolitan areas with large
numbers of children living near major traffic corridors,”
says Rob McConnell, one of the lead researchers on the study
and a professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck
School of Medicine.
findings confirm our understanding that air pollution not
only makes things worse for people with asthma but can actually
cause asthma to develop in healthy children,” reports
Diane Bailey of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),
a leading environmental non-profit. “It is even more
sobering when you consider that 45 million Americans live
within 300 feet of a highway and many of them are children.”
researchers note that new laws in California designed to
reduce carbon output—improving fuel efficiency and
reducing vehicle miles by increasing public transit options—will
also help reduce asthma triggers. Some of the policies designed
to reduce traffic congestion and car usage include offering
housing developers incentives to locate projects closer
to transit stops, thus encouraging use of public transit.
to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change
offer an opportunity to develop ‘win-win’ strategies
that will maximize the health benefits from reduction both
of greenhouse gases and of air pollutants that directly
harm children,” McConnell says.
is also emerging evidence that other diseases may be caused
or exacerbated by
urban air pollution, including atherosclerosis, lung cancer,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and neurological
disorders,” McConnell adds. “Thus, policies
to combat climate change may have near-term health benefits
beyond reducing the burden of disease due to asthma.”
to NRDC’s Bailey, prioritizing the land directly next
to freeways and other busy roads for commercial rather than
residential use is one way to keep people at a safer distance
from asthma-triggering pollution. Those who already live
near busy roadways can help mitigate pollution effects by
planting trees—foliage of all kinds is good at absorbing
pollutants—and by filtering their indoor air to minimize
overall exposure. But given that traffic pollution increases
asthma by some eight percent, says Bailey, “we better
do everything we can do reduce that pollution and minimize
exposure to it.”
Health Perspectives; NRDC.
NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!
EarthTalk: Is it true that children are sicker
today than they were a generation ago and that pesticides
have played a major role?
—Maria Jenkins, Clewiston, FL
October 2012 report by Pesticide Action Network
North America examined dozens of recent studies
and concluded that the influx of pesticides in our
society -- omnipresent in the air we breath and
the foods we eat -- is taking a heavy toll on our
children's health and intelligence.
to say with certainty that our modern reliance on pesticides
is directly causing more of our children to get sick more
often, but lots of new research points in that direction.
An October 2012 report by Pesticide Action Network North
America (PANNA) entitled “A Generation in Jeopardy”
examines dozens of recent studies and concludes that the
influx of pesticides in our society is taking a heavy toll
on our kids’ health and intelligence.
today are sicker than they were a generation ago,”
reports the group. “From childhood cancers to autism,
birth defects and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases
and disorders are on the rise.” PANNA’s assessment
of the latest science “leaves little room for doubt:
pesticides are one key driver of this sobering trend.”
all around us today. We are exposed to them via the foods
we eat and the air we breathe. As a result, we all carry
trace amounts of them in our bloodstreams. Children’s
bodies, since they are still developing, are particularly
susceptible to health problems from pesticide exposure.
Kids routinely come in contact with pesticides inside their
homes and schools and out in their backyards, schoolyards
and parks. Even family pets, many of which wear pesticide-laden
flea collars and powders, can be a source of pesticide exposure
for children. According to PANNA, even extremely low levels
of pesticide exposure can cause significant health problems,
particularly during pregnancy and early childhood. New research
links pesticide exposure to harm to the structure and functioning
of the brain and nervous system.
may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of
important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth,”
reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
way pesticides may cause harm is if a child’s excretory
system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove
pesticides.” Exposure to pesticides during certain
critical developmental periods can permanently alter a growing
child’s biological systems. The result, warns PANNA,
is an increase in birth defects and early puberty and noticeable
increases in asthma, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.
appalling is that we have known about these dangers for
decades yet have done little about it. “Nearly 20
years ago, scientists at the National Research Council called
for swift action to protect young and growing bodies from
pesticides,” says PANNA. “Yet today, U.S. children
continue to be exposed to pesticides that are known to be
harmful in places they live, learn and play.” For
its part, the EPA does evaluate children’s exposure
to pesticide residues in common foods and evaluates new
and existing pesticides to assess risks, creating guidelines
and regulations accordingly. But many would like to see
the EPA take a stronger stand against the widespread use
of pesticides across the U.S.
There are several
ways individuals can minimize pesticide exposures for themselves
and their loved ones. Buy organic food whenever possible.
Avoid chemical sprays and bug traps inside and out of the
home. And steer clear of farms and other agricultural lands
that regularly get sprayed with pesticides.