South African Journal of Child Health

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Ambient pollution and respiratory outcomes among schoolchildren in Durban, South Africa

RN Naidoo, TG Robins, S Batterman, G Mentz, C Jack


Objective. To examine associations between ambient air pollutants and respiratory outcomes among schoolchildren in Durban, South Africa.
Methods. Primary schools from within each of seven communities in two regions of Durban (the highly industrialised south compared with the non-industrial north) were selected. Children from randomly selected grade 4 classrooms were invited to participate. Standardised interviews, spirometry, methacholine challenge testing and skin-prick testing were conducted. Particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide were monitored at each school, while nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other pollutants were monitored at other sites.
Results. SO2 was significantly higher in the south than in the north, while PM concentrations were similar across the city. The prevalence of symptoms consistent with asthma of any severity was 32.1%. Covariate-adjusted prevalences were higher among children from schools in the south than among those from the north for persistent asthma (12.2% v. 9.6 %) and for marked airway hyperreactivity (AHR) (8.1% v. 2.8%), while SO2 resulted in a twofold increased risk of marked AHR (95% confidence interval 0.98 - 4.66; p=0.056).
Conclusions. Schoolchildren from industrially exposed communities experienced higher covariate-adjusted prevalences of persistent asthma and marked AHR than children from communities distant from industrial sources. Our findings are strongly suggestive of industrial pollution-related adverse respiratory health effects among these children.
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