Several studies have already linked the likelihood of death by respiratory and circulatory illness to the level of fine dust particles in the air. A Munich study now shows that high levels of fine dust pollution could increase the risk of type 1 diabetes among children. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Fine dust pollution leads to earlier instances of type 1 diabetes in small children, according to a study by the Institute for Diabetes Research at the Helmholtz Centre in Munich. Environmental factors, the researchers found, also have an effect on the development of the illness.
“Our results indicate that exposure to traffic-related pollutants accelerates the development of type 1 diabetes,” the authors of the study, Andreas Beyerlein, Miriam Krasmann and their colleagues indicated. But their data suggests this result only applies to very young children.
The researchers analysed data from 671 young patients with type 1 diabetes, recorded between April 2009 and May 2013 in the Bavarian diabetes register DiMelli (Diabetes Incidence Cohort Registry).
The focus of the analysis was to compare the time of diagnosis in small children with contact to certain air pollutants around their homes. Blood samples from patients were also tested for various inflammatory markers at the time of diagnosis.
During the analysis, the researchers also took other factors into consideration, such as the history of diabetes in a child’s family, the education level of parents and a child’s body mass index.
Air pollution from exhaust emissions increase risk in urban areas
The researchers found that small children from residential environments with high levels of ambient air pollution developed type 1 diabetes three years earlier on average than children in the same age group from areas with low levels of pollution.
The correlation was found for concentrations of fine dust particles with an aerodynamic diameter of <10µm and nitrogen dioxide. Both substances are categorised as traffic-related pollutants.
Further, the researchers consider it unlikely that other typical occurrences related to city life could also be contributing to the correlation between diabetes and place of residence.
“Our results were independent from the level of urbanisation in the areas analysed,” the researchers said. This indicates that pollutants are responsible for the correlation observed and not a different lifestyle in cities or higher temperatures in urban areas.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common chronic illness in children and youth. 65,000 new cases are diagnosed worldwide each year, with an estimated 3% annual rate of increase. In Germany alone, 2,100 to 2,300 new cases are registered annually among children and teens up to 14 years of age.
Studies indicate a yearly 3-4% increase in the rate of new cases for type 1 diabetes. Now, the Helmholtz Centre study suggests a correlation between the increase in new cases and growing urbanisation.
Air pollution poses biggest environment-related health risk
The fact that smog and traffic-related air pollution considerably increase the risk for numerous diseases, including cancer, lung diseases as well as heart and circulatory conditions, is nothing new. The European Environment Agency (EEA) presented its progress report in early March.
According to the agency, fine particulates in the air are to blame for around 430,000 premature deaths in the European Union. Despite measures to introduce a driving ban, and stricter guidelines for industry, the report does not consider the danger to be over.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies air pollution as the largest environment-related health risk worldwide and estimates the number of deaths due to air pollution at 7 million per year.
In 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency responded to the dramatic increase in evidence of adverse health effects related to fine dust particles by adjusting threshold values for the pollutants. The long-term threshold values for respirable fine dust particles with an aerodynamic diameter under 2.5µm was decreased from 15 to 12 µg per cubic metre. In the EU, the roughly comparable value is currently still at 25µg per cubic metre.
In Germany, especially large episodes of smog have become a rare occurrence. Still, the country’s limit values for air quality are often exceeded. Though filtration of more coarse particles has been mostly effective, the amount of smaller, respirable particles – so-called fine dust particles – in emissions has increased. The main sources of fine dust particles are industry, furnace heating, motors and agriculture.
An estimated 90% of EU citizens are exposed to some of the most harmful atmospheric pollutants at levels judged dangerous by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The 2008 Air Quality Directive aims to streamline and reinforce European legislation on pollution and air standards. It is currently under examination.
The directive obliges the member states to bring about a 20% reduction in their citizens' exposure to fine and medium-sized particles by 2020, compared to 2010 levels.
The European Commission estimates the total health costs linked to air pollution to be between 330 and 940 billion euros per year.
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