Southern Cal Air Pollution Efforts Yielding Benefits, Study Says

(Photo: David Iliff, Creative Commons)

(Photo: David Iliff, Creative Commons)

Ongoing attention to air pollution in Southern California has kids breathing more efficiently than they were two decades ago, write the authors of a University of Southern California Medical School study.

Both asthmatic and non-asthmatic children are now much less likely to suffer from allergy-like symptoms, say researchers. Since the 1990s, air pollution levels have dropped by roughly half.

"Reducing air pollution comes with tangible and significant improvements in children's health," said Kiros Berhane, the paper's lead author and a professor of preventive medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

David Danelski, writing for The Press-Enterprise, reports that the same team from USC found that the improvements in air quality in Southern California has led to improved lung strength.

The ability to take deeper breaths and exhale larger amounts of air more forcefully makes children abler to ward off respiratory illnesses and helps them be healthier throughout their lives.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and targeted respiratory symptoms that can develop from exposure to pollution, such as chronic coughs, mucus membrane inflammation, congestion and phlegm production that do not occur in respiratory infections such as colds.

The researchers tracked these symptoms in 4,602 children from 1993 to 2012 in eight communities in Southern California by using health questionnaires given to parents.

Researchers cannot say with certainty that the improvement in air purity caused children's breathing to improve, but they believe their research supports this hypothesis strongly, reports Reuters.

"I think we can safely say this is one of the clearest pieces of scientific evidence to say reduction of air pollution can lead to improvement in respiratory health for children," said Berhane.

Billions of dollars have been used to replace vehicles that produced excessive pollution. Decreases in nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter are linked to a reduction of breathing issues for kids with or without asthma when they reach 10 and 15 years old.

Materials provided by the University of Southern California and published on ScienceDaily show that the positive aspects of the study are almost certainly the result of the science-based policies that have been instituted in the southern portion of the state. Berhane said:

"This type of data is important for policymaking and for how clinicians would advise their patients."

In 2009, roughly 1 in 10 US children had asthma, according to the CDC. The expenses for medical treatments because of asthma soared to $50.1 billion in 2007 and cost the US approximately $3,300 per person annually.

Almost 2 million emergency room visits each year are the result of asthma-related issues, says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Additionally, asthma is the basis for over 14 million doctor visits and up to 439,000 hospitalizations each year.

Executive Director of the Jurupa Valley-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice Penny Newman is worried that there are some who might use the results of the study to rationalize that the clean air effort has been completed.

But the Orange County Register's David Danelski writes that Berhane believes that the air quality benefits which were hoped for in the 1970 Clean Air Act are indeed taking place. He adds even greater improvements in kids' health are likely to occur as the region continues its journey toward meeting these health norms.

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