Air pollution and acute respiratory response in a panel of asthmatic children along the U.S.-Mexico border

Stefanie Ebelt Sarnat, Amit U Raysoni, Wen-Whai Li, Fernando Holguin, Brent A Johnson, Silvia Flores Luevano, Jose Humberto Garcia, Jeremy A Sarnat
Environmental Health Perspectives 2012, 120 (3): 437-44

BACKGROUND: Concerns regarding the health impact of urban air pollution on asthmatic children are pronounced along the U.S.-Mexico border because of rapid population growth near busy border highways and roads.

OBJECTIVES: We conducted the first binational study of the impacts of air pollution on asthmatic children in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, USA, and compared different exposure metrics to assess acute respiratory response.

METHODS: We recruited 58 asthmatic children from two schools in Ciudad Juarez and two schools in El Paso. A marker of airway inflammation [exhaled nitric oxide (eNO)], respiratory symptom surveys, and pollutant measurements (indoor and outdoor 48-hr size-fractionated particulate matter, 48-hr black carbon, and 96-hr nitrogen dioxide) were collected at each school for 16 weeks. We examined associations between the pollutants and respiratory response using generalized linear mixed models.

RESULTS: We observed small but consistent associations between eNO and numerous pollutant metrics, with estimated increases in eNO ranging from 1% to 3% per interquartile range increase in pollutant concentrations. Effect estimates from models using school-based concentrations were generally stronger than corresponding estimates based on concentrations from ambient air monitors. Both traffic-related and non-traffic-related particles were typically more robust predictors of eNO than was nitrogen dioxide, for which associations were highly sensitive to model specification. Associations differed significantly across the four school-based cohorts, consistent with heterogeneity in pollutant concentrations and cohort characteristics. Models examining respiratory symptoms were consistent with the null.

CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate adverse effects of air pollution on the subclinical respiratory health of asthmatic children in this region and provide preliminary support for the use of air pollution monitors close to schools to track exposure and potential health risk in this population.

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