Air Pollution: A Respiratory Hue and Cry

By Raloff, Janet | Science News, March 30, 1991 | Go to article overview

Air Pollution: A Respiratory Hue and Cry


Raloff, Janet, Science News


Air pollution: A respiratory hue and cry

High levels of air pollution may foster respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals, a new analysis suggests. An even more provocative study indicates that air pollution, at least in Los Angeles, may begin permanently "deranging" the lung's cellular architecture by the time a person reaches age 14.

Environmentalists say both studies underscore the need for stepped-up efforts to bring areas with substandard air quality into compliance with the Clean Air Act. Researchers presented the new findings this week in Arlington, Va., at the annual conference of the Society for Occupational and Environmental Health.

Bart Ostro and his co-workers reexamined data collected 12 years ago in the north-central Los Angeles area, looking for associations between respiratory health and local measurements of air pollutants. The team focused on 320 generally healthy, nonsmoking men and women who had kept daily logs of their respiratory symptoms over a six-month period as part of another study.

A preliminary analysis indicates that runny noses, sinusitis, sore throats, head colds and other upper-respiratory symptoms arose most often on the haziest days or on days with the highest peaks in smog-ozone, reports Ostro, an epidemiologist with the California Department of Health Services in Berkely. The bad smog episodes also coincided with more lower-respiratory symptoms, such as coughs, phlegm, wheezing and chest colds -- but only among participants whose homes lacked air conditioners, which can limit indoor ozone levels. In addition, the researchers uncovered hints that when sulfates reached high levels in the city's air, lower-respiratory symptoms emerged the following day.

Daily one-hour peaks in ozone were high throughout the study period, averaging 0.1 parts per million and sometimes reaching 0. …

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