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Cleaner Air Leads to Healthier Lungs
Date:12/5/2007

Two studies support efforts to reduce air pollution, especially diesel exhaust

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Two real-world studies from Europe demonstrate the health damage done by automotive air pollution, especially the kind emitted by diesel engines.

An 11-year period of improving air quality in Switzerland, which started with some of the cleanest air in Europe, produced measurable benefits in lung function for adults as they aged, according to a report in the Dec. 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Even with small improvements in air quality, you get measurable health benefits," said Dr. Ursula Ackermann-Liebrich, a professor of public health at the University of Basel. "That is true at levels even which are quite low."

And an unusual collaborative study by American and British researchers, reported in the same issue of the journal, showed that people with asthma who walked along a street used by diesel-powered traffic experienced loss of breathing much greater than those who strolled through a traffic-free park.

"The unique feature of this study in real-world conditions was that we have demonstrated that typical urban levels of air pollution with diesel-rich powered vehicles have measurable effects," said Dr. Junfeng Zhang, chairman of environmental and occupational health at the New Jersey School of Public Health and an American member of the research team. "There have been theories or hypotheses of diesel exhaust or particle matter and also laboratory studies with animals, but this was a study in the real world with real people."

The study had 60 adults with mild or moderate asthma walk for two hours along two London locales -- busy, exhaust-filled Oxford Street or the more bucolic Hyde Park.

The Oxford Street walk produced a 5 percent to 6 percent reduction in lung function, "and asthmatics already have compromised lung function," Zhang said.


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