Release 98-39
June 25, 1998
CONTACT: Jerry Martin
(916) 322-2990

Children's Health Study Update

        SACRAMENTO - The California Air Resources Board (ARB) was updated today on the progress of its 10 year children's health study taking place in Southern California. Now in its seventh year, the study is determining how children are affected by lifelong exposure to high air pollution levels.

        ARB Chairman John Dunlap said, "There have been many studies on how air pollution can affect adults, however, this project is unique because it is the only long-term health study looking at children raised in areas with high air pollution levels."

        The study, at a projected cost of $15 million over 10 years, is co-sponsored by the ARB, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, South Coast Air Quality Management District and other local air pollution control districts. The ARB has contributed approximately $10 million as well as staff time to the study.

        Since the study began in 1991, several observations have been made:

--     Ozone concentration and length of exposure correlate with reduced lung function in older         children

--      Increased rates of acute respiratory illness (including bronchitis) as well as longer absences          have been observed following days of high pollution

        In addition, PM10 was shown to be associated with higher bronchitis rates.

        As well as PM10 and ozone, the study is looking for the effect that nitrogen dioxide, PM2.5 and ambient acids have on children. Indoor and outdoor ozone levels have been measured at 52 schools to determine student exposure and to validate school policies that bring children indoors during smog alerts.

        Over the course of the study, over 5,000 young people will have been followed from 4th, 7th and 10th grades. To compensate for students graduating from high school or relocating out of the study area, an additional group of 4th graders were recruited in 1995.

        The project has been in the long-term monitoring phase since 1995, studying individual children and their reactions to ambient pollutant exposures over time. During the study, children are periodically examined to determine if lifetime exposure to high air pollution levels can lead to incomplete lung development or to changes in lung function or capacity, or cause other chronic health effects such as bronchitis or emphysema.

        In the project's first two phases, a team of University of Southern California researchers have gathered health data on 3,600 volunteers from a dozen communities in Southern California. A few of those communities include Lompoc, Atascadero, Santa Maria, Alpine, Long Beach, San Dimas, Lancaster, Upland and Lake Arrowhead. Each of the four pollutants being studied (ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and atmospheric acidity) has been measured at high levels in some of the 12 communities. In addition, several communities have clean air to provide a control study group.

        Other studies have found that California children have been more likely to suffer from asthma than children in other parts of the nation. Researchers have been cautious about attributing these increased asthma cases to high smog levels.

        The children's health study is expected to be completed in 2002.

        The Air Resources Board is a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency. ARB's mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The ARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health based air quality standards.

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