Melbourne: Car pollution is causing asthma-like symptoms in otherwise healthy children, and potentially affecting their lung growth, a new study has revealed.
A study of 2860 primary school children representing most states in Australia revealed that nitrogen dioxide (NO2), found in motor vehicle exhaust, was present in the lungs of two thirds of the students tested at the 55 sample schools.
In children who were detected with NO2, the researchers consistently found those children experienced ‘‘asthma-like’’ symptoms, including ‘‘wheeze’’.
Their lung volume was reduced and their airways were inflamed.
Researchers found that the NO2 was not producing typical asthma, but a non-specific lung effect, which did not improve with asthma medication.
‘‘Although air pollution levels are relatively low in most regions of Australia, they may not be low enough to prevent adverse health effects,’’ the Age quoted the report.
The research found that children inhaled and retained more air pollution per unit of body weight than adults, partly because they played outdoors, and that pollution had a greater impact on children as their lungs were still developing.
The report warned that while the impacts measured were small, long-term exposure to NO2 could affect them into adult life.
The report called for major reductions in particulate matter (airborne fine particles of soot), carbon dioxide, NO2 and ozone, saying there were many pollutants without a safe ‘‘threshold’’.
The report suggested that it should be done by limiting motor vehicle emissions, investing in more public transport and through better urban design.
Doctors for the Environment Australia spokeswoman Marion Carey criticised the time taken to review the air standards.
‘‘We have enough information now to act,’’ Dr Carey said.
‘‘We should be translating this knowledge into practical policy and action to protect everyone’s health, especially our children’s,” she said.
Asthma Foundation NSW chief executive officer Michele Goldman said Australia’s air monitoring was 10 years behind the rest of the world despite compelling evidence of harm.
“Studies have shown that children constantly exposed to cigarette smoke or traffic fumes are three times more likely to develop asthma,” she said.