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There Are Multiple Child Asthma Triggers in Dirty Air
  • Posted March 14, 2024

There Are Multiple Child Asthma Triggers in Dirty Air

There's a toxic stew of chemicals in polluted air that can all trigger asthma attacks in kids, new research shows.

Also, where a child lives -- for example, near factories or highways -- greatly influences how much they're exposed to these toxins, reports a team from Washington State University in Spokane.

“It's not just one pollutant that can be linked to asthma outcomes. This study examined the variety and combinations of air toxics that may be associated with asthma symptoms,” said study lead author Solmaz Amiri, a researcher at the university's college of medicine.

Prior studies on the issue have tended to focus on just a few toxic elements of polluted air, but Amiri said her team harnessed the power of AI to look at a broad spectrum of toxins breathed in by kids in various Spokane neighborhoods.

In total, the effects of 109 air pollutants on asthmatic children were analyzed. Samples were taken by the Environmental Protection Agency at neighborhoods surrounding 10 elementary schools in the Spokane area.

Data from those samples was compared to health data from each of the schools on asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and the need to use an inhaler. The data was taken in 2019 and 2020, before pandemic-era lockdowns began.

Three pollutants appeared especially key to triggering asthma symptoms in children:  1,1,1 trichloroethane, 2-nitropropane and 2, 4, 6 trichlorophenol. All three are found in materials people use every day.

For example, 1,1,1 trichloroethane is a solvent now used by industry, but which used to be found in household cleaners and glues, the team said. The second chemical is an additive to paints and other finishes, and the third is an anti-septic and anti-mildew agent that was banned in the 1980s but might still be lingering in the environment.

The findings will be published in the April 15 issue of Science of the Total Environment.

“Some of these air toxics were discontinued in the U.S., but they can still be found in materials that may be in storage or people have in their backyard or garage," Amiri said in a university news release. "Other air toxics still exist at least in the environment."

Why kids in one neighborhood might be exposed to certain pollutants while kids living elsewhere were not wasn't explained by the study. But Amiri believes the presence of nearby factories or highways could be the culprit. In many cases, those pollution sources are concentrated in lower-income neighborhoods, her team noted.

Amiri added that a prior study based in New York City uncovered similar trends.

“Both in Spokane and New York City, regardless of the setting -- how large or small the cities are -- these air toxics appear to be influencing asthma among children,” she said.

More information

Find out more about asthma triggers at the Allergy & Asthma Network.

SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, March 13, 2024

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