Even ‘safe’ levels of air pollution can harm health, especially kids, study finds

Jun 28, 2023, 6:30 PM | Updated: Jun 30, 2023, 11:55 am

air pollution...

FILE - A plume of smoke being emitted into the air from a power plant, Feb. 16, 2022, in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Biden administration is proposing new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants, its most ambitious effort yet to reduce planet-warming pollution from the nation’s second-largest contributor to climate change. A rule being unveiled Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency could force power plants to capture smokestack emissions using technology that isn't in widespread use in the U.S. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

(AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Air pollution levels considered safe by federal regulators, such as the EPA, can increase health risks. That’s according to the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the United States.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, used brain scan data from more than 9,000 participants in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study, as reported by medicalxpress

“Air quality across America, even though “safe” by EPA standards, is contributing to changes in brain networks during this critical time [ages 9-12], which may reflect an early biomarker for increased risk for cognitive and emotional problems later in life,” said Megan M. Herting, Ph.D., associate professor of population and public health sciences at the Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, according to medicalxpress.

In 2020, Utah had a higher adult asthma prevalence rate when compared to the national average (10.8% vs. 9.3%), according to Public Health Indicator Based Information System.

Dr. Amanda Bakian, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, who was not a part of the study, discusses the research findings and what it means for Utahns young and old with Dave & Dujanovic guest hosts Greg Skordas and Maura Carabello, who pointed out that the Salt Lake Valley and other Utah valleys trap air pollution because of the topography of the mountains, especially in wintertime.


Air pollution and how it affects child development

Bakian said scientific research has studied the effects of air pollution at multiple different stages of child development.

“There’s a longer history of looking at autism as an outcome related to air pollution,” she said. “But we also have since then looked at asthma, both the presence of asthma as well as asthma exacerbation, and then other outcomes such as learning disabilities, cognitive functioning and even absenteeism in school.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Particulate Matter Air Pollution before, during, and after Pregnancy

“Are they [children] more susceptible to the health risks or are they actually more resilient?” Maura asked.

Children are more susceptible to the negative effects of air pollution than adults because children are in a stage of fast development. They breathe oxygen at a faster rate and are more active than adults, Bakian said.

What should parents do with the study’s findings? Maura asked.

Bakian said some children have different vulnerabilities to air pollution than others. 

“If a child has asthma, we know that that that child is more susceptible to air pollution, to begin with,” she said “Potentially limiting their exposure, either by keeping them indoors or by wearing a face mask is a good idea. So that’s something for a parent to take in mind.”

Bakian added other steps adults and children can take to reduce the negative health impacts of air pollution are going outdoors in the mornings or on weekends when there is less traffic and therefore less air pollution. Increasing your elevation by going into the mountains can also be beneficial, she noted.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. 

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Even ‘safe’ levels of air pollution can harm health, especially kids, study finds