Story at a glance
- As wildfires become more frequent and intense thanks to climate change, concern is mounting over the negative health effects of resulting increased air pollution.
- A new study of blood serum collected from healthy children shows those exposed to higher levels of fine particulate matter are at increased risk of negative health outcomes.
- Researchers hope the findings and additional studies will prompt policy changes that promote population health.
Air pollution has long been associated with worsening symptoms of respiratory disease including asthma and COPD. Now, new research out of the University of California-Davis, suggests air pollution — resulting in part from wildfires — is linked with a marker of ill health effects among the state’s children.
Researchers assessed blood samples from 100 healthy children between the ages of 9 and 11 and used data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to measure levels of fine particulate matter near their homes.
“Particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems,” according to the EPA. Wildfires often lead to increased fine particulate matter in the air.
Children exposed to higher levels of this pollutant exhibited elevated markers of inflammation, such as interleukin 6 in their blood. This marker is associated with increased risks of diabetes and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Greater exposure to air pollution was also associated with lower cardiac autonomic regulation which can impact how hard hearts pump blood and how fast they beat, researchers found.
Children in particular are at increased risk of negative health effects due to their developing organs and systems, authors wrote. Children’s increased ratio of lung surface area to body weight could also play a role in increased susceptibility.
In total, 27 children had inflammation markers in their blood, measured during significant fires.
“By examining daily and monthly levels of particulate matter in relation to children’s inflammation and autonomic physiology, this study further demonstrates the immediate consequences of exposure to air pollution, which may increase risk of future disease,” said co-author Anna M. Parenteau, a doctoral student at the University of California-Davis department of psychology, in a press release.
“As climate change continues to impact children and families, it is paramount to understand the impact of environmental contaminants such as air pollution on children’s physiology,” Parenteau added.
Researchers hope studies on the detrimental impacts of environmental contaminants will prompt policy changes advancing long-term population health.