The Children's Health Guide is for parents who are concerned about the risk which air pollution poses for infants and young children. Because children and infants are still developing their immune and respiratory systems, it is critical for parents to know the effects that exposure to pollutants, what you can do to minimize such health risks, and the danger of diesel school buses.
CHILDREN & AIR POLLUTION
Children and infants are at greater risk from air pollution than adults for many reasons. Children tend to breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight. Babies’ and children’s bodies, lungs and immune systems are still developing and more prone to air pollution’s ill effects. Children also spend more time exercising outside, especially during summer months when smog levels are highest.
Heavy exercising also means that children breathe through their mouths more. The nose provides a natural way to filter particulates from reaching the lungs, the mouth does not. This is a problem for anyone exercising outside.
Children with existing respiratory problems, such as asthma, may have more health problems while exposed to air pollution. There are also other differences between people that make some of us more vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution, but nobody knows why. Also, children may not complain as much as adults about air pollution symptoms, and will continue to play in harmful conditions.
Exposure to air pollution at an early age can affect the development of respiratory, nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and increase the chance of cancer later in life. According to the American Lung Association, children living in extremely polluted areas have more respiratory infections, and these infections could lead to lung disease in adulthood.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO LESSEN YOUR CHILD'S EXPOSURE
Know how healthy your child is. If your child has asthma or other respiratory problems, make sure they are seeing a doctor about it, and take any medications prescribed by the doctor. Ask your doctor if your child should take these medications before exercising.
Know how active your child is. Your child should not play or exercise strenuously when pollution is heavy, especially aerobic activity, like running.
Know local weather conditions. Heat and humidity can make symptoms worse; reversals in the usual wind flow or very hot windless days may have increased air pollution. Check the weather report for information on air quality. In the Bay Area, pollution may be the worst during winter mornings.
Check for air pollution reports. Bay Area Air Quality Management District keeps track and alerts people to heavy air pollution conditions. There are newspaper, TV and radio listings. BAAQMD and the Spare the Air program will even email you the report - just go to www.SparetheAir.org/forecast/forecast.htm.
DIESEL SCHOOL BUSES AND OUR CHILDREN
Diesel school and transit buses are major sources of harmful pollution in California. Two percent of California vehicles are diesel powered, yet they produce 31% of the smog-forming nitrous oxide and 79% of the total particulate matter or soot, produced by on-road vehicles.
Smog and soot present major health risks, especially to children. Our children should not have to risk their health in order to get to school, nor should they be exposed to soot-spewing city buses. Yet California school districts rely on outdated, heavily polluting diesel school buses that emit 200 times as much toxic air pollution as the cleanest available bus engines.
Working with parent and teacher organizations, we will encourage our school districts to phase out polluting diesel buses in favor of school buses that run on natural gas, the cleanest technology available. At the same time, we will urge transit agencies to phase out diesel and phase in natural gas vehicles.
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