Vehicle exhaust may trigger 14 percent of asthma cases and 15 percent of asthma symptoms in children. That’s the conclusion from a study of 10 European cities conducted by Laura Perez of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and her colleagues.
Most people know that air pollution can trigger symptoms in children who already have asthma. What’s new about this study is that it estimated how many children have chronic asthma as a result of exposure to vehicle exhaust who wouldn’t have otherwise developed the disease.
The report, which focused on the specific irritants found in vehicle exhaust on heavily used roads in Europe, was published online Friday in European Respiratory Journal. 2013 is the European Union’s “Year of Air,” which includes a push to raise the level of air quality through the region.
What’s startling is that the number of asthma cases caused by vehicle exhaust may be comparable to the number caused by second-hand smoking. The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched worldwide campaigns against parents and other people smoking around children, because they have said it can trigger from four to 18 percent of childhood asthma cases.
A recent study from the UK suggested that their ban on public smoking had already reduced the number of childhood asthma attacks serious enough to require a hospital stay by over 12 percent. A 2010 report in the UK’s The Guardian noted that about 9,500 children a year are hospitalized with asthma attacks linked to second-hand smoke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agreed that second-hand smoke is a serious issue. In babies 18 months old or younger, they said that the United States experienced around 7,500 to 15,000 hospital stays every year that were triggered by the child’s exposure to second-hand smoke.
Even third-hand smoke, that sticky stuff that gets left behind on furniture and other surfaces after the smoker is gone, can be a health issue.
So it isn’t great news that exposure to vehicle exhaust might be just as bad. While smoking can be banned in public areas, people can’t stop driving.
Engineers will need to be called upon to produce designs that create less hazardous vehicle exhaust.
[traffic in Europe photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons]