Air pollution ill effects in children show through elevated markers of inflammation

Ill effects of air pollution on children is becoming more evident with a new study showing elevated markers of inflammation, such as interleukin 6. Research has also shown that air pollution is lowering cardiac autonomic regulation in children.

The new study by University of California, Davis also took into consideration all kinds of air pollution including the one caused through wildfires. Researchers looked at blood samples from more than 100 healthy children ages 9-11 in the Sacramento area where pollutants near their homes were recorded by the Environmental Protection Agency. Findings of the study are important owing to the fact that more and more cases of exposure to pollutants released during wildfires have been reported and cases related to numerous negative health outcomes in children, who have smaller bodies and organ systems than adults, including asthma and decreased lung function, as well as neurodevelopmental outcomes like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and deficits in school performance and memory, are being reported.

Researchers looked at fine particulate matter data from the EPA (PM2.5) — or the fine particles that can penetrate lungs and pass into the bloodstream — finding the children’s blood contained markers of systemic inflammation. Additionally, PM2.5, which refers to particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or smaller by the EPA, was linked to lower cardiac autonomic regulation assessed using an electrocardiogram. Specifically, researchers used data files maintained by the EPA, which have daily air quality summary information from each outdoor monitor in the country.

In total, 27 of the children studied had inflammation markers in their blood recorded during significant fires when their neighborhoods recorded significant levels of PM2.5 in the air. These times when fires were burning included during the Mendocino Complex Fire in 2018, which was active about 100 miles from the lab where blood was drawn. The findings were similar to those found in an earlier study, in which the blood of young primates was collected by UC Davis researchers after significant wildfires.

Previous studies with children have shown significant associations between ambient air pollution and allergic sensitization, respiratory symptoms, and ultra-structural and cellular changes to their lungs and airways, researchers said.

Researchers have found children may be especially susceptible to the effects of air pollution, given that, compared to adults, they have a higher intake of contaminants and greater lung surface area relative to their body weight.

Continued developmental research on environmental contaminants can sound the alarm about the effects of air pollution and inform policy changes that could promote long-term population health, researchers concluded.

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