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September 2005 Issue

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"Stop and Go" Traffic Increases Infant Wheezing

Published September 2005

Living farther away from the highway may not be as healthy as people think.

UC environmental health researchers recently found that 17 percent of infants living near "stop and go" traffic experienced wheezing.

As the studyÕs lead author Patrick Ryan explains, "stop and go" is defined as traffic within about a football fieldÕs length (100 yards) of a bus or state route with a posted speed of less than 50 miles an hour.

Published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, this is the first study of its kind to analyze the effects of "stop and go" bus and diesel traffic on infant respiratory health versus regular highway traffic.

"During the first year of life, an infantÕs lungs and immune system are still developing," says Ryan. "Overexposure to harmful particulates at such a young age may play a role in the development of allergic conditions."

Researchers tracked the respiratory health of 622 infants living near three traffic conditions: highway traffic, "stop and go" traffic and areas unexposed to major roads or bus routes.

Ryan and his team found that infants living within 100 yards of "stop and go" traffic wheezed twice as often as those living within about 400 yards of interstate highways, and more than three times as often as unexposed children.

African-American infants living near "stop and go" traffic experienced the highest wheezing rate--25 percent.

"Traditional wisdom told us that highway traffic was to blame," says Ryan. "We now know thatÕs not necessarily the case."

Earlier research has shown that diesel exhaust particles (DEP), breathable particles able to absorb and transport proteins, aggravate rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma symptoms. According to the Ohio Environmental Council, 23 percent of Cincinnati residents live in areas of elevated DEP exposure, deemed "hot spots."

This year, U.S. Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, an effort to improve air standards through diesel engine retrofits.

"Our findings reinforce the need to control diesel exhaust emissions," says epidemiologist Grace LeMasters, PhD, UC professor of environmental health and principal investigator of the study.

Infant wheezing is just one part of the long-term Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS), an effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to analyze environmental factors that may place children at risk for developing allergies and/or asthma.

The goal is to determine how city air pollution and exposure to normal house dust and pollen can cause allergies, hay fever and asthma in some children but not others.

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