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Respiratory Health & Air Pollution

    smoggy cityTransportation-related pollutants are one of the largest contributors to unhealthy air quality. Many of these common air pollutants, such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter, are respiratory irritants that can aggravate asthma either alone or in combined action with other environmental factors. In addition, recent research findings are beginning to point to a potential link between some air pollutants and the initial onset of certain respiratory conditions.

    Twenty-five percent of American children live in areas that regularly exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's limits for ozone -- more than one quarter of which comes from auto emissions. How we design our communities and our transportation systems plays a large role in our dependence on automobiles and on the duration and type of automobile trips we take.

    Several years ago, researchers took advantage of a natural experiment to observe the impact on pediatric asthma of decreased traffic levels and improved air quality. During the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta, researchers found that while peak morning traffic decreased 23% and peak ozone levels decreased 28%, emergency visits for asthma events in children decreased 42%. During the same period, children’s emergency visits for causes other than asthma did not change. These results suggest how efforts to improve air quality, such as increased use of mass transit and carpooling, can help improve the respiratory health of a community.

    For more information on respiratory health & air pollution, refer to the following resources:

    National Center for Environmental Health - Air Pollution and Respiratory Illnesses
    The Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch of NCEH directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's fight against respiratory illness associated with air pollution.

    Damp Indoor Spaces and Health (2004)
    A publication by the Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Institute of Medicine.

    Additional information on respiratory health & air pollution and related topics can be found in the Additional Resources section.

    Friedman MS, Powell KE, Hutwagner L, et al. Impact of changes in transportation and commuting behaviors during the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta on air quality and childhood asthma. JAMA 2001;285:897-905.