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Car Exhaust May Have the Same Effect on Children’s Lungs as Secondhand Smoke

Update Date: Mar 22, 2013 09:58 AM EDT

Parents in traffic-clogged neighborhoods and cities have known for years, but scientists have just confirmed that smoke from car exhaust pipes may wreak havoc on children's lungs. For the first time, researchers found that heavy traffic pollution can cause chronic asthma, not just flare up asthma symptoms. The study is just the latest to find a link between chronic diseases and environmental pollution.

The research was conducted by scientists from an assortment of institutions like the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, the Brussels Institute for the Management of the Environment and Aix-Marseille University. According to Everyday Health, they examined information from 10 European cities in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden: Barcelona, Bilbao, Brussels, Granada, Ljubljana, Rome, Sevilla, Stockholm, Valencia and Vienna. The numerous cities offered various sizes of children's populations, from 44,734 in Granada to 439,543 children in Rome. The researchers identified high-traffic areas with maps that illustrated which roads saw more than 10,000 cars a day.

The percentages of children with asthma varied according to city. In Vienna, 5.8 percent of children suffered from asthma; on the other end of the spectrum, 29.2 percent of children in Ljubljana had asthma. The percentages of children with the symptoms of asthma was much higher. In Barcelona, 29 percent of children displayed symptoms, while 39.2 percent of children in Brussels reported the same. For comparison, 13 percent of children in New York and 11 percent of children in California had been diagnosed with asthma in 2010.

Researchers estimated that pollution from traffic could account for 14 percent of all asthma cases. To compare, the World Health Organization estimates that between 4 and 18 percent of asthma cases can be linked to secondhand smoke. According to UPI, the study was the first to find a link between traffic and the condition itself, not just with symptoms.

According to the National Library of Medicine, asthma is a chronic disorder that causes the passageways of the lungs to restrict and tighten.

A related study found that traffic pollution was also linked to an elevated risk of coronary heart disease, finding that seniors who lived in traffic-polluted areas had a 7.1 percent greater chance of developing the condition.

The study on the asthma-traffic link was published in the European Respiratory Journal.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the European commission has declared 2013 to be "Year of the Air".

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