When children living under polluted, hazy skies move away to communities with cleaner air, their lungs begin to grow more quickly, according to a study by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.Preventive medicine researchers followed more than 100 children through their teen years and compared those who moved away to other communities in the West.Resulting changes in air pollution exposure, on average, affected annual rates of lung function growth, the team reported in the Amerial Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
"This study confirms our earlier work showing that air pollution can have long-term effects on lung health in children. It also shows that cleaning up the air actually has a measurable effect on chindren's health," says Edward L. Avol, associate professor of research in preventive medicine at Keck School and the study's lead author."On average, children who moved away to areas with lower levels of pollution had increased rates of lung function growth, while children who moved to areas with higher pollution had decressed rates.So, air quality can affect lung growth rates, and reducing community air pollution can make a measurable difference,"he said.
They found that as a group, students who had moved to areas with less particulate matter (microscopic particles in the air such as dust and smoke) showed increased growth in lung function. Those who moved to areas with more particulate matter showed a slowdown in lung function growth. The trend seemed strongest for those who had moved away three years or more before they were tested.
Particulate matter is just one ingredient of the hazy cocktail of airborne pollutants that come from the burning of fossil fuels (exhaust from a car or truck), and from emissions from factories or other sources. Scientists suspect that children with decreased lung function might be more susceptible to respiratory disease and more likely to have chronic respiratory problems as adults.
Researchers were interested in lung function during adolescence. "When kids hit puberty, their lungs start to grow qquite quickly," Avol explains. "Girls' lungs grow until their early 20s." 20s and then slowly declines with age.So what happens during that big growth spurt during the teen years may be especially important later in life. Avol and colleagues hope to follow the children as they progress into adulthood, to better understand any persistent and long-term effects of pollution.