The study, published Jan. 26 in the Lancet, is the result of eight years of research conducted across 12 southern California communities, involving 3,677 children. At the outset of the study, the average age of the juvenile subjects was 10 years.
Researchers concluded that children living within 500 meters of a freeway -- roughly a quarter mile -- only achieved 97 percent of their projected lung volume, and only 93.4 percent of their expiratory air flow, as compared to children who lived 1,500 meters or further from a freeway.
According to the study, acidic vapor, nitrogen dioxide, carbon and other suspended particulate matters are the primary pollutants linked with the interstate traffic responsible for this truncated respiratory development.
“Lung capacity is something that once a child is done growing, that amount of lung capacity they have is carried with them throughout their adult life,” said W. James Gauderman, Ph.D, associate professor at the Kreck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and the primary author of the study. “Reduced lung capacity is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and repertory diseases, such as emphysema.”
Gauderman went on to explain how even healthy lungs that have achieved their maximum potential over the highly developmental period between the ages of 10 and 18 years, downgrade with time.
“What we worry about most are kids who have compromised lung functions to start out with,” said Gauderman. “When they get older, they will have a significantly increased risk for respiratory diseases.”