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Videoconference covers effects of air pollution on children

Ed Avol, professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Air pollution is a “very challenging problem” for areas around the world and presents tough choices for parents serving on diplomatic assignments, according to a pollution expert at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Ed Avol, professor of clinical preventive medicine, was tapped as a consultant for a May 29 videoconference with parents employed by the American Embassy in Beijing. Representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C., also spoke during the event.

“There’s no escaping the fact that pollution is extremely high in many cities around the world, especially in Beijing,” Avol said. “It’s incredibly high by U.S. standards.”

Avol reported on the results of a 20-year Children’s Health Study, for which he served as deputy director. Among the results of the study of 12,000 children:

• Air pollution slows the growth of lung function in children.

• Children growing up in communities with higher air pollution are four times more likely to have abnormally low lung function.

• Increases in air pollution are associated with increases in asthma and increases in school absences related to respiratory problems.

Other studies have indicated relationships between air pollution and high blood pressure, heart attacks, birth defects and cancer, he said.

Children are especially at risk for effects of air pollution, Avol said, because of a combination of circumstances. They have more exposure because they spend more time outdoors and have higher breathing rates because they are more active than adults. The fact that children are still growing makes them more susceptible to effects of exposure.

One question raised by the parents was how to provide regular exercise for children living in Bejing, a city where most days of the year far exceed, by severalfold, even the smoggiest days in Los Angeles. Avol emphasized that exercise was important and valuable, and that everyone — especially children — should get more of it, but time and place was an issue.

“Given the air quality in Bejing, going indoors with the windows and doors closed is a reasonable way to offer some protection from air pollution exposure,” Avol said. “Contained spaces can be filtered, with air conditioning and various control systems, and this might be one option to explore for the Bejing experience.”

Funding from the California Air Resources Board, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Hastings Foundation supported the Children’s Health Study.

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