Thursday, April 24, 2014
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How can I help clean up the air?

Gary A. Emmett, M.D, offers tips on how we can cut down on air pollution, both indoors and out. Improving our air quality can help children with chronic lung conditions like asthma.

How can I help clean up the air?

General view shows polluted weather in Cairo, Egypt Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. Cairo has air pollution levels from 10 to 100 times higher than the World Health Organization standards. High vehicle fuel emissions, polluting urban industries, and a hot and dry desert climate are causing havoc to the occupants of this city. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
General view shows polluted weather in Cairo, Egypt Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. Cairo has air pollution levels from 10 to 100 times higher than the World Health Organization standards. High vehicle fuel emissions, polluting urban industries, and a hot and dry desert climate are causing havoc to the occupants of this city. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

It’s time to take some action when it comes to cleaning up our air. Sensible regulation is needed to avoid the current situation in Chinese cities  – air pollution so bad that people are actually afraid to go outside at times.  Johnny Carson used to joke that he was uncomfortable leaving Los Angeles because he did not trust air that he could not see. But air that you can see is a disaster – especially for people with chronic lung conditions, such as asthma in children and emphysema in older people.

I was asked last month by the American Lung Association to speak in front of the Environmental Protection Agency on their proposals to reduce air pollution, especially in regards to stiffening regulations of car exhausts and fuel use. 

When I spoke to the EPA, I concentrated on some fairly simple ideas that the average citizen can help improve our air quality. 

For outdoor air pollution, I would equip all diesel trucks and buses with automatic engine cutoff switches so that when they stopped, engines off, and when they started, engines on, as we now have on electric cars.  A more available tool (that is on the books now in Philadelphia) is that all diesel vehicles are required to not idle when they stop. 

Multiple research papers show that children with asthma who live on streets with lots of commercial vehicles have many times more asthma attacks then those who live on small streets without commercial vehicles.  If the Parking Authority would simply ticket idling trucks and buses, they would stop idling and acute lung disease would drop.

For indoor air pollution, the quickest and easiest tip is simply not letting anyone smoke indoors or come indoors if they still smell of smoke.  Homes with smoking have twice the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rate of non-smoking homes and at least a 50 percent rise in reported asthma.

Also, remember that second hand smoke has health consequences for children.  Recently, a father brought a fairly ill 3 year-old child to the emergency department with an unusual post-viral infection partial paralysis named Guillan-Barre Syndrome.  The child had been an ill premature baby that had required a prolonged intensive care stay and now was going to need hospital treatment for his body’s over-reaction to his lung infection.  Lung infections are much more common in children who live with smokers.

On history, the child was on all-natural foods and spring water. The parents refused immunizations because they were worried that the vaccines would pollute their child’s body.  They also complained while the child stayed in the hospital because they had to go outside and go far away from the hospital to smoke.  They regularly smoked around the child, and didn’t not see the contradiction in their behavior or how it might hurt their child.

So do what you can now to stop smoking indoors (and out) and stop diesel vehicles from idling outdoors, which can save lives and hospitalizations, and support the EPA’s more efficient vehicle proposals for the long-term.


Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »

Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Temple University Hospital
Christopher C. Chang, M.D., Ph.D Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Mario Cruz, M.D St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, Drexel University College of Medicine
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist - The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic, CHOP
Gary A. Emmett, M.D. Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Lauren Falini Bariatric exercise physiologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Crozer-Keystone Health System
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, RD Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D. Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Jefferson Medical Colg
Flaura Koplin Winston, MD, PhD Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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