MUNICH, Germany, September 9, 2014 (ENS) – Children who suffer poor lung health from breathing polluted air are not alone – so do adults.
In the first study of its kind, published Saturday, researchers from across Europe evaluated the correlation between air pollution and lung function in European adults and found that the harmful effects of breathing polluted air persist into adulthood.
The researchers used indicators of vehicle traffic in the area and modeled the exposure levels to different pollution measures, including nitrogen oxides (NO2 and NOx) and particulate matter (PM).
Their conclusions may seem obvious, but the study’s authors, Nicole Probst-Hensch and Martin Adam from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute based in Basel, say their findings are “crucial” as they demonstrate that air pollution is having a negative effect, not only on children, as previously demonstrated, but also on adults.
“Although the levels we see in Europe are much lower than in the so-called megacities in China and India, we are still seeing a deterioration of lung function in people exposed to higher levels of air pollution and this must be addressed,” said Adam and Probst-Hensch.
The study confirms previous findings that children growing up in areas with higher levels of pollution will have lower levels of lung function and a higher risk of developing symptoms such as cough and bronchitis.
The new study also identified that obese people are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of air pollution, possibly due to an increased risk of lung inflammation.
Lung function data were collected from 7,613 participants through spirometry testing in adults across eight countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Spirometry measures the volume and speed of air that is inhaled and exhaled.
The new data identified a clear link between higher levels of exposure to air pollution and deteriorating lung health in adult Europeans.
The results were published online September 6 in the “European Respiratory Journal.”
The new study is part of the EU-funded European Study of Cohorts of Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE) project, which is investigating the long-term effects on human health of exposure to air pollution in Europe.
The health impacts of fine particles in the air on Europeans are estimated to be large. But available estimates are based on exposure-response relationships established in studies from North America.
“There is an urgent need to perform studies in Europe on recent and current exposures, and to use refined exposure assessment tools,” say ESCAPE organizers.
The new study was released as the European Respiratory Society and European Lung Foundation launched their inaugural Healthy Lungs for Life campaign with the theme: Breathe Clean Air.
The campaign was launched at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Munich September 6. It aims to raise awareness and educate people about the importance of healthy lungs and clean air free from particulate matter, pathogens, smoke and dangerous gases.
President of the European Respiratory Society Professor Peter Barnes said, “Urgent action is needed to tackle air pollution in Europe. It is crucial that policymakers in Europe take note of these findings and update guidelines in Member States to meet the WHO recommended air quality standards. This will ensure equal protection of all citizens’ health across the continent.”
At the Congress opening ceremony, World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakob received the European Lung Foundation Award in recognition of the WHO’s efforts to improve lung health with the introduction of the air quality guidelines.
A large proportion of Europeans live in areas with levels of air quality that are known to have negative impacts on health. Earlier this year, the WHO estimated that air pollution was the cause of seven million premature deaths globally in 2012, with 3.7 million of these being connected with poor outdoor air quality.
“This mortality is due to exposure to small particulate matter of 10 microns or less in diameter (PM10), which cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers,” said the WHO.
To achieve cleaner air, the UN’s health agency recommends: shifting to clean modes of power generation; prioritizing rapid urban transit, walking and cycling networks in cities as well as rail interurban freight and passenger travel; shifting to cleaner heavy duty diesel vehicles and low-emissions vehicles and fuels, including fuels with reduced sulfur content.