John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
European researchers believe 14 percent of chronic childhood asthma can be blamed on living near busy roads.
Having your children live near a busy highway is kind of like keeping them penned in the smoking area of a Greyhound bus station, according to a new study.
European researchers applied a statistical technique known as "population-attributable fractions" to existing data to root out how much childhood asthma can be blamed on heavy traffic. Their conclusion: 14 percent of chronic asthma in kids is caused by car exhaust, which falls into the 4 to 18 percent bracket of childhood asthma cases resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, as per World Health Organization estimates.
To come up with this concerning conclusion, the researchers examined health data in 10 European cities and ruled out contributing factors like chain-smoking parents and socioeconomic status. Here's the nut of their findings as reported by the European Lung Foundation:
Until now, traffic pollution was assumed to only trigger asthma symptoms and burden estimations did not account for chronic asthma caused by the specific range of toxicants that are found near heavily used roads along which many Europeans live....
Lead author, Dr Laura Perez at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said: "Air pollution has previously been seen to trigger symptoms but this is the first time we have estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution. In light of all the existing epidemiological studies showing that road-traffic contributes to the onset of the disease in children, we must consider these results to improve policy making and urban planning."
The full study will be coming out soon in the European Respiratory Journal in the midst of the European Union's celebration of the "Year of Air," a very necessary-sounding campaign to improve air quality across the continent.