At least 24,000 children in L.A. County have asthma because they live near busy roadways and breathe in the pollution belched out by a never-ending procession of cars and trucks, says the latest in a stream of studies linking air pollution and breathing problems.
And previous estimates of how air pollution exacerbates childhood asthma may actually have underestimated the burden smog exposure places on society, USC researchers reported online Sept. 24 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. This study looked specifically at Los Angeles County, but the consequences of air pollution in other metropolitan areas where children live near major traffic corridors (especially within 250 feet of a busy roadway) are also likely underreported, the study’s authors conclude.
The researchers used data from the ongoing Children’s Health Study, which has been recording effects of air pollution since 1993, plus regional air pollution measurements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources. They concluded that cutting children’s exposure to near-roadway pollution 20% would mean 5,900 fewer cases of childhood asthma in the county, while a 20% increase would yield that many additional cases. Currently there are around 300,000 cases of childhood asthma county-wide.
The researchers also examined state of California policies intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by improving fuel efficiency – but also by increasing use of public transportation. The policies would offer developers incentives to build housing projects located closer to bus or rail service hubs to boost public transit use.
The problem? Bus and rail stops are often located on or near busy roads, so the state’s plan to clean up the air for our kids could actually place more of them close to the source of the pollutants. The researchers note that more study is needed so that the state can develop policies that reduce sprawl and encourage mass-transit use, while also minimizing kids’ exposure to vehicles still on the road.