An 11-year study indicates that chronic exposure to air pollution can cause long-lasting lung dysfunction, it was reported Friday.
The UCLA study of 2,500 people showed damage occurs whether the source of air pollution is Southern California smog or East Coast-style industrial smokestack emissions.The seven-member research team tested residents of Glendora, in the smoggy foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, as well as residents of a Long Beach community downwind of several oil refineries. Also surveyed were residents of Lancaster, where the air is relatively clean.
The UCLA group determined that in some cases people who are chronically exposed to air pollution suffer irreversible deterioration in lung function. Poor lung function can render people succeptible to respiratory disease such as emphysema. Some of those studied suffered as much as 75 percent loss of lung capacity, the researchers said.
Earlier experiments demonstrated that brief exposure to air pollution could could cause lung irritation lasting a day or two. But UCLA's long-term study indicated that longer exposure to air pollution "is more than an inconvenience," said Dr. Roger Detels, who led the study.
Detels told the Los Angeles Times he was particularly disturbed by the study's indications of the effect air pollution has on children.
Lung capacity generally increases until about age 20, then begins to decrease slowly. Researchers found a slower growth rate in children growing up in polluted areas, and Detels predicted that would translate into increased respiratory disease among these people as they get older.
None of the participants in the study ever smoked. Monitoring stations for the South Coast Air Quality Management District kept track of the amounts and types of pollution to which the participants were exposed.
Researchers said there was no recognizable difference in the nature of impairment due to varying kinds of pollutants involved. In both Long Beach and Glendora, large and small airways in the lungs were found to have been narrowed by their chronic exposure to pollution.