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Kids' Lungs Need Better Air Quality

Holding Breath

It's seems obvious that less air pollution means better breathing for everyone, especially the small lungs of a child. And now there's proof that improved air quality allows for better respiratory function in children ages 11 to 15.

As reported in the NYTimes, a new study out of Southern California and published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides evidence that better air quality, a result of stricter air pollution regulation, improved health among children.

During a 17-year period, University of Southern California researchers studied air pollution levels as they declined in five regional communities. The scientists also measured breathing capacity in about 2,000 schoolchildren from the communities during three periods: 1994–1998, 1997–2001 and 2007–2011.

In the years the study was conducted, federal and state emission standards lowered the output of air pollutants from California’s cars, diesel trucks, refineries, ships and trains. By the study’s conclusion in 2011, fine particulates had fallen by 50 percent and nitrogen dioxide levels by 35 percent in the monitored communities. Such changes were representative of improving air quality in Los Angeles area.

As emission standards became more strict and the air became cleaner, the scientists found that lung development in children born in later years of the study was better than those born earlier in the study, when the air was more polluted.

According to the Times:

"In 2011, the third wave of 15-year-olds was assessed. Over the four years the children were tested, the growth in their lung capacity had been about 10 percent greater than that of the 15-year-olds measured in 1998. The positive effects were observed in boys and girls, and regardless of race and ethnicity."

Environmental experts say the research should influence federal emission standards, which are due for review in the next few years.

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