Environmental pollution is second only to smoking as a risk factor for mortality. As lung function decreases, the risk of respiratory disease and heart attacks increases. Healthy lungs usually stop developing at age 18, gradually losing lung function by 1 percent every year after age 20.
According to a study headed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, children who live in heavily polluted cities are five-times more likely to have poor lung development and inadequate breathing ability.
Researchers studied the pulmonary history of nearly 1,800 children, in grades four through 12, in Southern California. They measured the effects of air pollutants including nitrogen oxide, acid vapor, and elemental carbon on the lungs of participants. The data showed children living in polluted cities had a lower capacity to exhale than children living in cleaner cities. Thus researchers say potential long-term effects of reduced lung function are alarming.