Can Pollution Impact Lung DevelopmentCan Pollution Impact Lung Development 0

30.03.2015

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Can Pollution Impact Lung Development

Children lungs need clean air for development?

For many years, people living in the big cities have looked out of their windows to see a grey haze and known that if they had any kind of lung related problems, it was going to be a bad day.  The connection between pollution and lung capacity was well known and many cities have conducted sustained work to reduce this problem for their residents.  But it now seems that not only does pollution cause problems for those with lung conditions, it can also slow the growth of the lungs in children.

Slowing lung development

The New England Journal of Medicine has released the results showing the details of an eight year study on children who were in the fourth grade originally from 12 different communities across California.

The idea for the study came about when the city of Los Angeles was experiencing a period of particularly bad pollution and the California Air Resources Board decided to work with partners to see what effects the pollution was having on the city’s children.  Lung function measurements were given to the children for 8 years, during the time of life when lung function growth takes place.

The children were grouped into three cohorts, depending on where they lived. 

The first cohort of children lived in areas that suffered from the highest amount of pollution and were shown to have lower cumulative lung growth. These results were important because even modest reductions in lung function are predictive of respiratory disease, coronary heart disease, and reduced life expectancy.

The results of the study also show that the lung functions improved over 4-year period for these children who lived in the areas where the levels of air pollution declined, giving hope that some of the loss of lung function associated with exposure to air pollution is reversible.

What is pollution?

Pollution is a term we are all used to hearing but in fact is a general term for a range of different contaminants in the air we breathe.  One of the most common components of the pollution we see is smog and this contains ozone.  Ozone is the chemical made when sunlight interacts with the soot coming from car exhausts and gas vapors as well with the dust that comes from power plants.  Smog can also contain tiny particles of matter such as nitrates, sulphates, metals or dust particles that can all cause problems when inhaled.

Carbon monoxide is a well-known pollutant, an odourless and colourless gas that is the result of carbon not being completely burned when used in fuels.  This means the more traffic in an area, the more carbon monoxide – cars are responsible for around 56% of all CO emissions but it can also come from gas and wood stoves, cigarette smoke and emissions from factories.

Nitrogen dioxide is perhaps the most damaging of the pollution types.  They are a group of reactive gasses that come from vehicles and power plants.  They then react with elements of the atmosphere such as ammonia and moisture to make up little particles.  These particles get into the most sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause emphysema and bronchitis as well as aggravating heart disease to the point it can cause death.

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