A new study has shown that exposure shortly after birth to ambient metals could harm infants.
The metals from residential heating oil combustion and particles from diesel emissions are associated with respiratory symptoms in young inner city children.
The study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health is the first to analyze the effects of exposure to airborne metals in this very young population and the findings could have important public health implications.
The study also contributes to a further understanding of how specific sources of air pollution may impact child health.
The study compared pollutant levels with respiratory symptoms of children between birth and age two living in Northern Manhattan and in the South Bronx, and found that the airborne metals nickel and vanadium, were risk factors for wheezing in young children.
Residual oil combustion for heating is a major source in New York City of these metals. Elemental carbon, an indicator of diesel exhaust, was associated with increased frequency of coughing only during cold and flu season (September through April).
"It appears that exposure to ambient metals and diesel-exhaust particles in our air may lead to several respiratory symptoms for young children living in urban areas," said Rachel L. Miller, associate professor of Medicine and Environmental Health Sciences (in Paediatrics) at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center and co-deputy director of CCCEH at the Mailman School of Public Health and senior investigator on the study.
"The effects of exposure to airborne metals had not been studied previously in children so young, and these findings could have important public health implications for members of inner-city communities in New York City and elsewhere," Miller added.
Molini M. Patel, lead author and previously a research scientist in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and a CCCEH investigator, said: "These findings increase our understanding of the effects of specific pollutants from heating oil combustion and traffic on respiratory health in very young children."
"Our results are of concern especially because levels of nickel in our study area, Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, are among the highest in New York City and in the U.S., as are the rates of pediatric asthma."
The investigators controlled for exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, sex, ethnicity, and seasonal trends, all of which have been linked to increased respiratory symptoms and asthma in other studies.
The study has been published in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.