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Fri 26 Jan 2007 06:22 PM

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Child health hit by living near highways

Urban planners in the GCC could be risking children's health by building housing near busy highways.

Urban planners in the GCC could be putting children's health at risk by building multi-lane highways through residential complexes.

A study in California, published in health journal,
The Lancet

, suggests that children who have lived within 500m of freeways between the ages of 10 and 18 had significantly lower lung volume and peak flow than children who have lived more than 1500m away.

The Californian team of researchers followed 3677 children in 12 southern Californian communities for eight years, measuring their lung function every year.

They also measured the air quality in the area, and logged the addresses where children lived. The research was designed to see if living near a highway had an effect that was independent of local air quality.

The results show no relationship with air quality generally, but a clear link with living close to a freeway.

In comparison to children who lived 1500m away from a highway, the study found that children who lived within 500m achieved only 97% of their predicted lung volume and only 93.4% of their maximum air flow when breathing out.

A growth spurt between the ages of 10 and 18 appears to make children most vulnerable. As they become adults, lung capacity does not increase any more. "An individual with a deficit at this time will probably continue to have less healthy lung function for the rest of his or her life," stated the report, which was led by James Gauderman, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

California has some of the toughest regulations in the world for the control of air quality, so the results of the study are likely to be less dramatic than might be found if the same data were collected in Middle Eastern cities where environmental concerns have only recently been on the agenda.

The Californian study is likely to reignite a row in Dubai's Meadows and Springs residential developments, both built by Emaar Properties, where residents are fighting to prevent a six-lane highway being built through the heart of their community.

Construction Week

, a sister magazine to ArabianBusiness.com, reported last week that it had seen plans drawn up by contractor, Parsons De Leuw Cather Overseas, that show the six lane highway. Emaar has never officially confirmed the plan.

Dubai and several other fast growing cities in the GCC, might also have to reconsider their urban planning that sees high-rise apartment blocks built within metres of main arterial highways.

Professor Stephen Holgate, a respiratory disease specialist quoted in Britain's The Times newspaper, said that the study "once again draws attention to the toxic effects of traffic pollution on children's health."

"The implication of this study is that reduced lung function in childhood is a known risk factor for the development and worsening of asthma in children and the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease later in live," he added.

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