Traffic Pollution Causes 4 Million Childhood Asthma Cases Every Year

A global study has found that air pollution from road vehicles is responsible for 13 percent of asthma diagnoses each year.

The George Washington University study, published this month in the journal “The Lancet Planetary Health“, is one of the most comprehensive of its kind. It shows a significant link between the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) output of diesel vehicles—and to a lesser extent other road vehicles—and pediatric asthma incidents.

The researchers arrived at these findings by comparing population data with diagnosed childhood asthma cases. They then looked at NO2 measurements from various monitors both on the ground and in orbit around the Earth. This allowed them to look at the overlap between traffic pollution and asthma cases among children in 194 countries and 125 major cities.

The researchers found that traffic pollution causes around four million childhood asthma cases each year or, to put this in perspective, 11,000 new cases every single day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, about 64 percent of these occur in urban centers, where traffic rates are far higher than in rural communities. Air pollution in rural communities can also be linked to indoor log burning, with an adjoining risk of breathing problems. This is particularly a problem in developing nations but was not specifically looked at in this study.

The researchers found that countries like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had the highest rates of childhood asthma linked to traffic pollution. Coming in third was Canada, with 450 cases of pediatric asthma per 100,000.

The study also broke down which countries had the largest number of cases attributable to traffic pollution. That might sound like only a minor difference in wording, but instead of looking proportional (i.e. per 100,000) is actually looking at the burden of asthma cases as a whole figure. They found that China was in the lead with 760,000 cases, with India a distant second at 350,000 and the US not too far behind that at 240,000 cases.

For those familiar with China’s ongoing smog problems this may not be so shocking, but the real-world implications of so many children suffering from asthma because of pollution is still arresting.

“Efforts to reduce NO2 exposure could help prevent a substantial portion of new pediatric asthma cases in both developed and developing countries, and especially in urban areas,” the researchers conclude. “Traffic emissions should be a target for exposure-mitigation strategies. The adequacy of the WHO guideline for ambient NO2 concentrations might need to be revisited.”

Most of the new asthma cases are being recorded in places like Kuwait that actually have emissions below the World Health Organisation’s limit for air safety. Scientists have repeatedly said these limits may be too high, and this research seems to corroborate that harmful particles in the air—specifically NO2 exposure—may have a more serious impact than we thought.

This is the first research of its kind to look at this problem in such a comprehensive way, so its findings are important.

“From the weight of evidence, there is likely a strong causal relationship between traffic pollution and childhood asthma incidence,” Ploy Achakulwisut, lead author of the study, told the Guardian. “So we can be confident that traffic pollution has a significant effect on childhood asthma incidence.”

It is important to note that, when taken with existing data, the key culprit appears to be NO2, but the researchers can’t rule out other air pollution factors, like fine particulate matter. The specifics are important, and it is critical we get a better understanding of precisely what in traffic emissions is so damaging and the damage it can do, so we can start reducing that health burden. There is enough evidence here, though, to make wider policy suggestions.

The most obvious is the need to eliminate diesel vehicles as quickly as possible from common use. Some nations are already on board with this. For example, the UK announced in 2017 that it would ban diesel vehicles from being sold to the general public starting in 2040 2040. Other nations are looking to go further and ban diesel and petrol vehicles from general use within the next decade. Some cities, like London, are also looking at or have instituted strict controls on pollution by creating ultra-low emissions zones to try to combat this problem.

This study demonstrates, however, that for four million children every year,  action on traffic pollution can’t come soon enough.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.

31 comments

Martha P
Martha P4 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Beth S
Barbara S6 days ago

thanks

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Angeles Madrazo
Angeles M17 days ago

So sad! We must stop this. Thank you

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Gino C
Gino C29 days ago

thanks for posting

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Celine R
Celine Russoabout a month ago

Time to get better public transports. Rural cities that need cars to get other cities that have a lot of public transport is just unfair.

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a month ago

ok

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Clare O
Clare Oabout a month ago

th

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David C
David Cabout a month ago

You cannot be "pro-life" and not support (a) clean energy and (b) strong regulations on other energy sources...…..

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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