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High-traffic area schools could mean higher risk of asthma

A recent study by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is suggesting that pollution around schools located in high-traffic areas may contribute to children developing asthma. The study says that there is a 45 percent increased risk of developing asthma for children attending schools in high-traffic locations.

Asthma has been linked to residential traffic-related pollution, but little has been studied on the effects of traffic exposure at school contributing to new onset of asthma, per lead author Rob McConnell, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School. McConnell said, "Exposure to pollution at locations other than home, especially where children spend a large portion of their day and may engage in physical activity, appears to influence asthma risk as well."

Data for the study was taken from the Children's Health Study, a study of children in Southern California communities, investigating chronic effects of air pollution on the respiratory system.  The California Environmental Protection Agency Children's Environmental Health Program Biennial Report (2004-2005) February, 2006, states that the study "has been a 10-year study of the health effects of children's long-term exposures to Southern California's high concentrations and unique mixtures of air pollutants. The recently-completed final report yielded many important results including a finding that a child's history of a doctor's diagnosis of asthma was found to be associated with nitrogen dioxide exposure and residential distance to a freeway. The study also found that significant decreases in lung function development at the age of 18 could be attributed to air pollutant exposure."

 A group of 2,497 kindergarten and first-grade children who did not have asthma when the USC research began were studied. Researchers took into account the relationship of local traffic around schools and homes, traffic volume, distance to major roadways from home and school and local weather conditions. New asthma cases that occurred within a three-year period were studied, and 120 new cases of asthma were found.

Children spend less time at school than at home, but they spend time outdoors during physical education, lunchtime, etc., which may increase the amount of pollutants getting into their lungs. McConnell also noted that traffic-related pollutant levels may be higher in the morning when children are arriving at school. If asthma is a serious problem for your child, perhaps leaving your house early to avoid the regular drop-off and pick-up traffic would be helpful.

There is a California state law that prohibits school districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway; however, that does little for the many Southern California schools located near high-traffic areas.
According to McConnell, "It's important to understand how these micro-environments where children spend a lot of their time outside of the home are impacting their health. Policies that reduce exposure to high-traffic environments may help to prevent this disease."

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Hastings Foundation and appears in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

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