American Thoracic Society International Conference
American Thoracic Society International Conference
May 25, 2016
2 min read

Ships’ fuel oil exhaust may impact lungs of children in California

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Nickel and vanadium found in burning fuel oil from ships off the Southern California coast might damage the developing lungs of children, according to findings presented at the American Thoracic Society 2016 International Conference.

“This study adds to the epidemiological evidence on the health effects of [particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 µm or less (PM2.5)] components,” Robert Urman, PhD, from the department of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC, said in a press release. “When we analyzed the data, we found that teenaged children in the most polluted communities had an estimated decrease of approximately 4% in their lung function compared to similar children in the least polluted communities.”

Multiple studies have determined that PM leads to worse lung function in children, the researchers wrote. In fact, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards currently regulate PM2.5 overall, but does not oversee the composition of PM2.5, and few studies have investigated PM2.5 composition or its chronic effects. In Southern California, nickel and vanadium exhaust are typically emitted as ships enter and leave ports, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, which make up the largest port complex in the United States, Urman said.

As part of the Children’s Health Study, the researchers measured forced expiratory lung volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) in 1,911 Southern California children aged 11 and 15 years. The researchers collected PM samples at the participants’ schools and measured the concentrations of copper, iron, nickel, vanadium and zinc. Using linear regression, they assessed the relationship between lung function and exposure to these metals.

Overall, they determined that nickel (deficit, 4.4%; 95% CI, 2.2-6.5) and vanadium (deficit, 3.9%; 95% CI, 1.6-6.2) were associated with decreased lung function in children aged 15 years across 5% to 95% of the distribution for each metal.

Some of the highest levels of nickel and vanadium were observed in Long Beach, Urman said. In addition, he and his colleagues said Mira Loma and Upland were highly polluted, while Santa Barbara was below the national standard.

“More studies are needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between specific components of PM and any health-related endpoint,” Urman said. “If we could establish a link between these components and health-related outcomes, then more targeted regulations could be enacted to better protect the health of the general population.” – by Will Offit

Urman R, et al. Abstract 8592. Presented at: American Thoracic Society International Conference: May 16, 2016; San Francisco.

Disclosure: Urman declares no relevant financial disclosures.