German researchers link auto exhaust and poor health

Brussels, 18 October 2006

Most people would agree that a flat overlooking a motorway may be less than ideal. Though the aesthetic downsides to a flat near a busy road seem rather clear, could it actually also be hazardous to your health? A recent study conducted by German scientists indicate that it is, and quite.

The report, published in the September issue of Epidemiology, analysed the effects of air pollution and tiny particles in the air on the cardio-vascular condition of older women living near busy roads in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. Conclusions indicate that women living within 100 metres of highly frequented roads are 79 percent more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).

Studies in the past have hinted at such phenomena and others have studied the situation over a limited period of time, but this is the first time there has been a long-term, statistical analysis in Germany of such a relationship between disease and air pollution from automobiles.

The data for the study come from projects started in the 1980s. From 1985 to 1994, sicentists studied the effects of air pollution on the health of women aged 55. Then, between 2002 and 2005 researchers reviewed the data from 4800 of the subjects for details on mortality, on chronic respiratory diseases and on their pulmonary function.

They discovered that 3 percent of the study group died from cardiopulmonary causes, i.e. diseases of the cardiovascular system or the respiratory system, that were provoked as a result of living near busy roads.

These evaluations were carried out by scientists from the National Research Center for Environment and Health and the Environmental Health Research Institute, both research institutions in Germany funded by the Ministry of the Environment and Nature Conservation, Agriculture and Consumer Protection of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

As a result of their findings, the researchers are recommending stricter regulation for air pollution. Recently, scientists from the European Respiratory Society (ERS), the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) and the International Society for Exposure Assessment (ISEA) signed a joint declaration calling for strong legislation at the EU level to limit certain particles present in air pollution.

They argue that the reduction of tiny particles suspended in the air could lead to the reduction of anywhere from 4500 to 22 000 premature deaths per year of people 30 and older from such diseases lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular complications and others.

DG Research
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