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Transcript: A Breath of Air

A BREATH OF AIR
THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY

Fade up music

NARRATOR THE SCIENTISTS CHOSE TO STUDY 12 COMMUNITIES THAT ARE SPREAD OUT WITHIN A 200-MILE RADIUS OF DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES. THE COMMUNITIES EAST OF L.A. BEAR THE BRUNT OF THE REGION'S DIRTY AIR.

THESE ARE THE STUDY’S MOST POLLUTED COMMUNITIES.

THE LEAST POLLUTED ARE FOUND UP IN SANTA BARBARA AND SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTIES… WHERE THERE ARE FEWER RESIDENTS… FEWER CARS… AND LESS INDUSTRY. ALSO IN THE STUDY ARE FIVE COMMUNITIES CHOSEN BECAUSE CERTAIN POLLUTANTS ARE HIGH… WHILE OTHERS ARE LOW.

ABOUT FIVE HUNDRED CHILDREN WERE RECRUITED FROM SCHOOLS IN EACH COMMUNITY… SO THE TOTAL NUMBER OF KIDS STUDIED WAS ALMOST SIX THOUSAND.

IN ORDER TO GATHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE CHILDREN…A DEDICATED TEAM OF RESEARCHERS VISITS EVERY SCHOOL IN THE STUDY… THEY’VE BEEN DOING THIS EACH YEAR SINCE THE STUDY BEGAN IN 1993.

EACH CHILD FILLS OUT A QUESTIONNAIRE ABOUT HIS OR HER HEALTH. THIS INFORMATION IS USED TO DETERMINE HOW AIR
POLLUTION AFFECTS CERTAIN SYMPTOMS AND CONDITIONS SUCH AS ASTHMA… BRONCHITIS… WHEEZING… AND COUGH.

STEVE HOWLAND Now, you want to take that mouthpiece and put it between your teeth.

NARRATOR EACH CHILD UNDERGOES AN ANNUAL LUNG FUNCTION TEST. DATA FROM EACH YEAR’S RESULTS WIILL SHOW HOW FAST THEIR LUNGS ARE GROWING…AND HOW BIG THEY ARE GETTING. THE RESEARCHERS ALSO MONITOR HOW MANY DAYS OF SCHOOL EACH CHILD MISSES EACH YEAR… TO HELP FIGURE OUT WHAT KIND OF ROLE AIR POLLUTION PLAYS IN ABSENTEEISM.
WHEN THE KIDS WERE ENROLLED IN THE STUDY… THE MAJORITY WERE IN 4TH GRADE… OR ABOUT TEN YEARS OLD.

JIM GAUDERMAN We’re picking an age range where the children are developing very rapidly, they’re going through puberty and so they’re experiencing a growth spurt not only in their body in general but their lungs are keeping in track with that and
growing as well…So the idea is that if air pollution is having an effect on growing tissue, that might be a particularly good time to see its effects, is when the lung is developing most rapidly.

CATEGORY MARKER What are the Health Effects?

JIM GAUDERMAN The closest thing that we can probably compare air pollution to with respect to the child’s exposure is environmental tobacco smoke, or passive smoke or secondhand smoke.

NARRATOR THIS MEANS BREATHING POLLUTED OUTDOOR AIR MAY BE LIKE LIVING WITH A SMOKER.

GAUDERMAN When the child breathes these pollutants into the lung and they get deep in the lung, we think they may be causing inflammation in the lung and repeated inflammation over days and months and years may cause some restructuring of the lung to try to handle the assault that’s happening on a daily basis.

NARRATOR AND THE ASSAULT FROM AIR POLLUTION IS ONE THAT MANY PARENTS FIND HARD TO AVOID. THAT’S BECAUSE IT HAPPENS WHEN KIDS ARE ENGAGED IN NORMAL… EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES.

EVERY TIME EXHAUST COMES OUT OF A CAR OR TRUCK OR FACTORY…YOU CAN ASSUME THAT SOMEWHERE…A CHILD IS BREATHING SOME OF IT IN.

BARRY WALLERSTEIN When we’re at a public forum and discuss the findings of the Children’s Health Study, the room grows silent. You could hear a pin drop. And it’s because people are alarmed about the effects that air pollution is having on
today’s children.

NARRATOR THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY HAS FOUND THAT CHILDREN WHO GROW UP IN AREAS WITH HIGH POLLUTION LEVELS ARE AT RISK FOR:
-DECREASED LUNG FUNCTION
-MORE FREQUENT RESPIRATORY ILLNESS
-INCREASED SCHOOL ABSENCES
-AND DEVELOPING ASTHMA

AND KIDS WITH ASTHMA HAVE A HIGHER RISK OF GETTING BRONCHITIS… CAUSING THEM TO COUGH AND PRODUCE PHLEGM… WHICH MAKES THEM SICKER.

-On Screen: BRONCHITIS
-COUGH
-PHLEGM
-MAKES THEM SICKER

What are the Health Effects?
Decreased Lung Function

SCIENTISTS AGREE THE MOST DISTURBING FINDING OF THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY TO DATE… IS THAT AIR POLLUTION AFFECTS HOW CHILDREN’S LUNGS GROW AND HOW WELL THEY FUNCTION.

WHEN WE BREATHE, OUR LUNGS INHALE TO BRING IN FRESH OXYGEN… AND EXHALE TO REMOVE CARBON DIOXIDE WASTE FROM OUR BODIES. IF LUNGS BECOME DAMAGED BY POLLUTANTS… LUNG FUNCTION IS IMPAIRED.

THINK OF BLOWING OUT CANDLES ON A CAKE. SOMEONE WITH A HUNDRED PERCENT OF THEIR LUNG FUNCTION COULD PROBABLY BLOW OUT 100 CANDLES IN ONE BREATH.

THEY CAN DO THAT BECAUSE THEY CAN COMPLETELY FILL THEIR LUNGS WITH AIR… AND THEN BLOW OUT ALL THAT AIR WITH EASE. SOMEONE WHO HAS DIFFICULTY DOING THIS… CAN BE SAID TO HAVE REDUCED LUNG FUNCTION.

IN HEALTHY CHILDREN… LUNGS GROW AS THEIR BODIES DEVELOP. BUT THE GREATEST GROWTH RATE IS DURING PUBERTY. FROM AGES TEN TO FOURTEEN… HEALTHY CHILDREN SEE THEIR LUNGS GROW BY ABOUT TWELVE PERCENT EACH YEAR. BY THE LATE TEENS OR EARLY TWENTIES… LUNGS HAVE ESSENTIALLY STOPPED GROWING -- AND THEN PLATEAU UNTIL ABOUT AGE THIRTY. THEN LUNG FUNCTION BEGINS TO DECLINE… AT A RATE OF ABOUT ONE PERCENT PER YEAR.

NOW TAKE A CHILD EXPOSED TO HIGH LEVELS OF POLLUTION. THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY SHOWS THAT DURING THE CRUCIAL PUBERTY YEARS…THEIR LUNGS WILL GROW 10 PERCENT LESS EACH YEAR. OVER A PERIOD OF FOUR YEARS…

THAT’S A SIGNIFICANT DEFICIT IN LUNG FUNCTION COMPARED WITH KIDS GROWING UP IN LOW POLLUTION NEIGHBORHOODS. AND THE SCIENTISTS DO NOT YET KNOW HOW THIS DEFICIT WILL AFFECT THE RATE OF FUTURE LUNG GROWTH.

WHAT THEY DO KNOW IS THIS DEFICIT CAN OCCUR IN ANY CHILD… NOT JUST IN THOSE WITH ASTHMA.

IN FACT… THE CHILDREN WHOSE LUNG FUNCTION IS IMPACTED MAY SEEM PERFECTLY HEALTHY.

JIM GAUDERMAN I think it’s very hard for a parent to pick up on the kinds of things we’re studying. They are not going to be able to observe their child’s lung function in any demonstrable way. Their lungs are developing and they’re typically out, able to play. And they probably won’t notice anything wrong even if maybe they are being impacted somewhat by air pollution. Because they are in this rapid growth phase, but it is well known that reduction in lung function later in life uh, we’re talking age 50, 60, 70, is a key risk factor for respiratory conditions and ultimately, death.

What are the Health Effects?
SCHOOL ABSENCES

TONY I’ve spent a lot of time in the emergency room, a lot, a lot, a lot of time in the emergency room.

NARRATOR TONI’S KIDS GET SICK OFTEN. AND THAT MEANS KEEPING THEM HOME FROM SCHOOL.

TONY In a 30-day period, they’re missing anywhere from about 5-10 days.

NARRATOR AND THEY’RE NOT THE ONLY ONES. THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY FOUND THAT MORE KIDS STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL WHEN THE AIR POLLUTION GETS WORSE. SEVERAL DAYS AFTER A SIGNIFICANT RISE IN OZONE LEVELS… MORE KIDS MISS SCHOOL DUE TO SORE THROATS… COUGHS… ASTHMA ATTACKS… AND OTHER SIMILAR PROBLEMS.

JIM GAUDERMAN What we found was that uh there was a fairly striking relationship between the level of ozone on the 2-3 days before to the chance ofbeing absent a couple days after that exposure.

NARRATOR A TYPICAL SEPTEMBER MONTH IN THE INLAND EMPIRE SOME 40-50 MILES EAST OF L.A. LOOKS LIKE THIS: THE SHADED DAYS ARE THE ONES THAT EXCEED THE STATE OZONE STANDARDS… MEANING THE AIR POLLUTION GOT WORSE. THE STUDY FOUND THAT SEVERAL DAYS AFTER THESE PEAKS… THE NUMBER OF KIDS ABSENT FROM SCHOOL WOULD DOUBLE. AND MOST OFTEN WHEN A CHILD IS KEPT HOME FROM SCHOOL…A PARENT IS KEPT HOME FROM WORK. THAT MEANS LOST WAGES AND LOWER PRODUCTIVITY.

ACCORDING TO AN ANALYSIS DONE IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY… REDUCING HIGH LEVELS OF OZONE COULD SAVE APPROXIMATELY SIXTY SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS EVERY YEAR IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ALONE… IN COSTS RELATED TO SCHOOL ABSENCES.

What are the Health Effects:
Onset of New Asthma Cases

MICHELLE COUTU When I was about ten, I started playing soccer. And I just started running, and I started getting really tired—I couldn’t breathe. And then I told my mom, and we went to my doctor’s, and he told me I had asthma and I had to use an inhaler. Actually, me and my mother thought it was the smog because…when I would go play somewhere else, it wouldn’t happen. And then I’d play in smog, and it would happen. And I just connected the two.

NARRATOR SO DID THE CHILDREN’S HEALTH STUDY.

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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