Our Center members and outreach program have been involved in discussions, meetings, and planning regarding the I-710 Corridor for much of the previous decade. This has included speaking at public hearings, participating in planning sessions, providing the latest scientific research findings to involved policymakers and commenting on potential alternatives developed by the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO), Caltrans, and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments, the regional organization providing a forum for the 21 cities adjacent to and/or directly impacted by the I-710 Freeway. Our primary concerns have centered on the health impacts of near-roadway air pollution. Expanding the number of lanes on the I-710 means that freeway pollution will be closer to homes, schools, and parks. Today’s article in the Los Angeles Times describes the current CalTrans plans which appear to be supported by Southern California Assn. of Governments. Also note, an alternative that has been offered by the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice.
Children’s lungs grew stronger as pollution declined throughout the Southern California basin over the past two decades
A 20-year study finds that millennial children in Southern California breathe easier than ones who came of age in the ‘90s, for a reason as clear as the air in Los Angeles today.
The University of Southern California Children’s Health Study measured lung development between the ages of 11 and 15 and found large gains for children studied from 2007 to 2011, compared to children of the same age in the same communities from 1994-98 and 1997-2001.
The gains in lung function paralleled improving air quality in the communities studied, and across the Los Angeles basin, as policies to fight pollution took hold.
Many studies have measured the health effects of pollution by comparing locations with different air quality. The challenge lies in ruling out other factors that may account for health differences between communities.
By following more than 2,000 children in the same locations over two decades and adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity, height, respiratory illness and other variations, the study provides stronger evidence that improved air quality by itself brings health benefits – benefits which last a lifetime for children breathing cleaner air during their critical growing years.
“We saw pretty substantial improvements in lung function development in our most recent cohort of children,” said lead author W. James Gauderman, professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, noting this was the first good news from the long-running study.
“It’s strange to be reporting positive numbers instead of negative numbers after 20 years.”
Widely-covered previous findings from the study showed an increase in stunted lung development for children in areas with heavy air pollution, as well as a higher risk of asthma for children living near busy roadways.
Combined exposure to two harmful pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter of diameter under 2.5 microns (PM2.5), fell approximately 40 percent for the third cohort of 2007-2011 compared to the first cohort of 1994-98. The study followed children from Long Beach, Mira Loma, Riverside, San Dimas and Upland.
Children’s lungs grew faster as air quality improved. Lung growth from age 11 to 15 was more than 10 percent greater for children breathing the lower levels of NO2 from 2007 to 2011 compared to those breathing higher levels from 1994-1998.
The percentage of children in the study with abnormally low lung function at age 15 dropped from nearly 8 percent for the 1994-98 cohort, to 6.3 percent in 1997-2001, to just 3.6 percent for children followed between 2007 and 2011.
That compares to 2.5 percent by age 18 for children from the first two cohorts who lived in cities with cleaner air, such as Lompoc and Santa Maria. Cuts in federal funding forced the researchers to exclude those cities in the last cohort and focus only on areas with heavier air pollution.
“Reduced lung function in adulthood has been strongly associated with increased risks of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and premature death,” said Gauderman. “Improved air quality over the past 20 years has helped reduce the gap in lung health for kids inside, versus outside, the L.A. basin.”
The growing years are critical for lung development. The researchers are monitoring lung function in a group of adults who participated in the study as adolescents. So far they have not found evidence of a rebound after the teenage years.
“Their lungs may have lost the opportunity to grow any more,” Gauderman suggested.
Broad benefits from better air
Lung development measured by the study improved across the board, regardless of education, ethnicity, tobacco exposure, pet ownership and other factors.
Across all five communities, lung development for children with asthma improved roughly twice as much as for other children. But even children without asthma showed significant improvements in their lung capacity, suggesting that all kids benefit from improved air quality.
“We expect that our results are relevant for areas outside southern California, since the pollutants we found most strongly linked to improved health — nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter — are elevated in any urban environment,” Gauderman said.
The incidence of asthma did not change significantly over the three cohorts. Previous research by the Children’s Health Study showed that the risk of asthma increases with proximity to busy roadways.
Lung function testing took place in school at least three times for each cohort, when the children were approximately 11, 13, and 15 years old. Students were asked to blow into a spirometer, an instrument that measures lung size and strength. The spirometer reads total lung volume as well as the amount of air that a person is able to blow out in one second.
Air quality monitoring stations in the five communities took continuous readings of key pollutants over the study period, which the researchers averaged to examine the exposures for each cohort.
Southern California cleans up
Local, state and federal regulations have achieved large reductions in pollutants in the Los Angeles basin.
In 2011, the concentration of NO2 was below the federal standard throughout the basin. PM2.5 was below the federal standard over most of the basin, and near the standard in a small area straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties. However, the federal standard was lowered in 2012, leaving the five communities in the study at or slightly above the new standard.
Ozone was below the federal eight-hour standard for most of Los Angeles and the coastal basin and exceeded the standard fewer than 20 days a year in the valleys, although parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties continued to exceed the federal standard 40 to 80 or more days per year.
Visibility also has improved. Southern California locations surpassed their 2018 state goals by 2012.
“It’s an environmental success story. The air has gotten much cleaner than it was in the past. I grew up here in the ‘70s. Even from Pasadena you couldn’t see the San Gabriel Mountains on a typical summer day,” Gauderman said.
Gains not guaranteed
Gauderman cautioned: “We can’t get complacent, because not surprisingly the number of vehicles on our roads is continually increasing. Also, the activities at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, which are our biggest polluting sources, are projected to increase. That means more trucks on the road, more trains carrying cargo.”
“These gains really aren’t fixed,” added senior author Frank Gilliland, Hastings Professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School. “We have to maintain the same sort of level of effort to keep the levels of air pollution down. Just because we’ve succeeded now doesn’t mean that without continued effort we’re going to succeed in the future.”
Gilliland noted that the state’s historic drought is expected to raise particulate pollution.
The study’s third cohort of 2007-11 also came of age at a fortunate time for respiratory if not financial health. The economy shrank and emissions fell during the Great Recession.
But the study also shows that air pollution and growth can coexist over the long term. The economy and population in the basin have grown since the cohort of 1994-98.
“Our results suggest that better air quality in future will lead to even better lung health,” Gauderman said.
Gauderman’s and Gilliland’s co-authors were Robert Urman, Edward Avol, Kiros Berhane, Rob McConnell, Edward Rappaport and Roger Chang, all from the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School, and Fred Lurmann of Sonoma Technology, Inc.
The authors dedicated their paper to the late John Peters of the Keck School’s Department of Preventive Medicine, who conceived the Children’s Health Study and directed it over most of its 20 years.
The study was funded by the Health Effects Institute, a partnership of the auto industry and the federal government; the California Air Resources Board; the Hastings Foundation; and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (grants ES011627, ES07048, and ES022719).
New England Journal of Medicine
Final 2012 Air Quality Management Plan, South Coast Air Quality Management District
California Regional Haze Plan, 2014 Progress Report (Appendix C), Air Resources Board of the California Environmental Protection Agency
The Community Outreach and Engagement team at the USC Environmental Health Centers has developed an infographic, the first in a series that we will be sharing with you over the next few months and years. This infographic has been developed especially for people who want to learn more about how their health is affected if they live or go to school in an area with lots of traffic pollution, near a busy road or traffic corridor. The infographic provides direct links to research studies done by USC Environmental Health researchers as well as other important studies on this topic.
Click on the image above to go to the interactive infographic. If you have more questions and want to learn more about the content of the infographic, please email us (scehsc (at) usc . edu) or visit our Facebook page and post a comment.
As many people who read this blog and follow the work of USC Environmental Health Centers know, our researchers spend much of their time and energy studying the health effects of outdoor air pollution. In particular, our researchers have published many studies on how pollution near busy roads and freeways can affect people’s health both in the short term and over the lifespan.
Therefore, we take particular note when media outlets such as the Los Angeles Times not only cover stories that relate to the impact of the environment on health but publish editorials about them.
The LA Times editorial below describes important information that people living in urban areas should consider when choosing where to live, as well as how cities and urban developers can influence and protect or (or alternatively create health risks for) local residents.
Feature and background article on the DaVinci apartment complex fire:
Da Vinci developer packs apartment complexes next to freeways
On November 24, the community/academic collaborative the “Trade, Health and Environment (THE) Impact Project” partners hosted the first of an ongoing lunch series. The Community Outreach and Engagement Program of USC’s Environmental Health Centers is a longstanding part of THE Impact Project. The meeting focused on the urgency of addressing health impacts from diesel emissions, and brought together organizations and concerned community members from impacted areas.
Moderator Michele Prichard, director of Common Agenda for the Liberty Hill Foundation, kicked off the program by asking participants to introduce themselves and tell the others on a scale of 1-10 how much they thought they already knew about the health effects of diesel emissions. (Attendees were much too modest in their assessments!) Presenter Andrea Hricko of USC then did a presentation on the Health Effects of Diesel, highlighting the national, state and local history of the path that diesel emission reduction has taken. She noted that although progress has been made in reducing overall diesel emissions in the Southern California regions, there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing diesel emissions in specific diesel “hot spots” around the region. Such “hot spots ” receive the brunt of diesel emissions, thereby raising health risks in the most impacted communities, near the ports, rail yards, warehouses and traffic corridors.
These risks were highlighted in the recently released MATES IV report from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, found here. The report has an interactive map, allowing viewers to click on their communities and see the overall cancer risk from air toxics, including diesel particulate matter.
Professor Martha Matsuoka from Occidental College outlined the history of THE Impact Project whose efforts included hosting conferences that were the impetus for developing a nationwide Moving Forward Network. Matsuoka explained that the Network serves as a resource, bringing environmental, community, academic, and other groups from around the country together to share information, resources, trainings and workshops.
To round out the featured presentations, mark! Lopez, Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, spoke to the participants, many of whom live in areas impacted by heavy diesel emissions, of the need for community change to push for environmental justice for people living around ports, freeways, and goods movement centers. Lopez spoke about not accepting “the way things are,” but changing the environment to be a healthy place in which people live, work, play and go to school.
At the conclusion of the presentations, participants discussed their concerns and questions. The following themes emerged for future activities and further information:
- Strategies for healthy living in polluted and disadvantaged communities
- Advances in technology to deal with port/goods movement pollution
- Local forums hosted in affected communities
- Updates on the current status of goods movement projects in the area
- Scientific information in easy-to-access form for community
THE Impact Project Partners include:
Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE)
East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ)
Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA)
University of Southern California (USC) Centers for Environmental Health, Community Outreach Program
Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), Occidental College
Thanks to sponsorship by the Luce China-Environment Program at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College.
LOS ANGELES — New research from Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) bolsters evidence that exposure to tobacco smoke and near-roadway air pollution contribute to the development of obesity.
The study, to be posted online Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, (click here) shows increased weight gain during adolescence in children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke or near-roadway air pollution, compared to children with no exposure to either of these air pollutants. The study is one of the first to look at the combined effects on body mass index of exposure to both near-roadway air pollution and tobacco smoke. The effects were substantially greater in children exposed to both air pollutant mixtures than to either alone.
“Vehicle miles traveled, exposure to some components of the near-roadway air pollutant mixture, and near roadway residential development have increased across the United States over the last several decades corresponding to the epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Rob McConnell, M.D., professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC and lead author on the study. “The potential for near-roadway air pollution to be among several factors contributing to the epidemic of obesity merits further investigation.”
The research builds on previous studies showing that exposure to secondhand smoke and particulate air pollution cause heart and lung disease.
Childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obese youth are more likely to suffer from health challenges, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, bone and joint problems, social stigmatization and self-esteem problems. Obesity for children is defined by the CDC as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
The researchers estimated near-roadway pollution exposure, taking into account traffic volume, how close the children lived to roadways and predominant wind direction. At study entry, a parent-completed questionnaire was used to determine lifetime tobacco smoke exposure.
“Further research is needed to determine if our findings can be replicated in other populations,” McConnell said, “and to assess both the potential contribution of combustion sources to the epidemic of obesity and the potential impact of interventions to reduce exposure.”
Funding for the research comes from the National Institutes of Health (grants P01ES022845, P30ES007048, P01ES009581, P01ES011627, P50 CA180905, R01ES016535, R01HD061968 and R03ES014046), the Environmental Protection Agency (grants RD83544101, R826708 and RD831861) and the Hastings Foundation.
McConnell, R., Shen, E., Gilliland, F.D., Jerrett, M., Wolch, J., Chang, C., Lurmann, F., Berhane, K. (2014). A Longitudinal Cohort Study of Body Mass Index and Childhood Exposure to Secondhand Tobacco Smoke and Air Pollution: The Southern California Children’s Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. Published online Nov. 12, 2014.
ABOUT KECK MEDICINE OF USC
Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-based medical systems in the Los Angeles area. Encompassing academic, research and clinical excellence, the medical system attracts internationally renowned experts who teach and practice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the region’s first medical school.
For more information, go to www.keckmedicine.org/beyond
This news release was prepared by USC Health Sciences Public Relations & Marketing and the Division of Environmental Health.