1-in-5 new cases of childhood asthma still linked to traffic pollution: Vancouver researcher
A child uses an inhaler to treat asthma. (SHUTTERSTOCK.COM/sarra22)
A newly released study co-authored by a Vancouver Coastal Health researcher suggests a fifth of new childhood asthma cases in Canada are caused by traffic pollution, despite improved emissions standards in the country.
Michael Brauer, who is also a professor at the School of Population and Public Health at UBC, is one of the researchers behind the study, which compared large data sets form around the world and placed Canada third in the world for rates of new pediatric asthma cases caused by vehicle emissions, affecting some 450 out of 100,000 kids per year.
That number was only higher in Kuwait (550 per 100,000) and the United Arab Emirates (460 per 100,000).
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“We don’t tend to think of Canada as highly polluted—and it’s not. We are cleaner, but not by much, when it comes to traffic pollution," Brauer said in a release. "Compared to most other countries, we have a lot of cars in Canada. And, most Canadians live in cities. When you put those two things together—you get congestion and a higher amount of this kind of pollution.”
Brauer said that while countries like China and India might have more air pollution, some factors might make Canadians more susceptible to pollution's impact on asthma development, including heavier use of antibiotics, high rates of C-sections and hygienic lifestyles.
“Many people might not realize that asthma is generally a disease of high-income countries," he said. "It’s a disease that tracks with high economic development.”
In addition, the study point out that a third of Canadian children live near a major roadway. That means that despite significant improvements to emissions standards over the years, many are still exposed to high concentrations of vehicle pollution because of where they live.
Urban planning the answer: Brauer
Based on the findings, Brauer said it's up to urban planners and local governments to take children's health into account when designing cities in the future.
The researcher cited California as a promising example, where laws mandate that schools be built a certain distance from freeways.
"If we can improve the air in our cities through cleaner transportation, we could cut new asthma cases by up to 20 per cent. That’s worth doing," he said.
According to Brauer, there also needs to be a continued push towards greener forms of transportation such as public transit, cycling and walking.
B.C. did have a program that tested and monitors vehicle emissions, but AirCare was ended under the BC Liberals in 2014.
And without "dramatic government intervention," Brauer said it's unlikely traffic pollution will decrease from current level.
“Basing policy on current emission standards is not effective enough,” he said. “If we can move to cleaner transportation, it will have positive impacts on other health conditions and on tackling climate change.”
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