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Traffic fumes stunt growth and function of lungs in children

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.334.7588.283 (Published 08 February 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:283

Living close to a Californian freeway (motorway) impairs the growth and development of children's lungs, a longitudinal study has found. Yearly lung function tests in 3677 children showed a clear deficit in those living <0.5 km from the traffic, and they had significantly worse lung function at 18 years than children living >1.5 km away.

Lung function increased more slowly from the age of 10, particularly in boys. At 18, lung function in children close to the freeway was only 93%-97% of that in children living further away. Adjusting for poverty and educational achievement did not affect the study's findings, which stood firm through various sensitivity analyses.

We still don't know which of the many pollutants in exhaust fumes causes the most damage to children's lungs, says a linked editorial (doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60038-5), although small particles, particularly those measuring <2.5 µm across, have been implicated. Diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of particulate pollution from traffic, and the authors suspect that diesel fumes were responsible for some of the deficits they found.

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