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First ‘real-life’ study shows exposure to diesel traffic is a health hazard for asthmatics


6 December 2007




Air pollution from diesel traffic can have harmful effects on the health of asthmatics according to a study published today (Thursday 6 December) in the New England Journal of Medicine.


A team of researchers led by Dr Paul Cullinan, honorary consultant in respiratory medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital and reader in respiratory epidemiology at Imperial College’s National Heart and Lung Institute, has shown for the first time that diesel traffic can reduce the lung function of asthmatics. The study is the first in the world to assess these effects in a real-life setting.  


According to Department of Transport statistics, there were almost nine and a half million diesel vehicles on the road in 2005 and it is widely acknowledged that there is an increasing market for diesel powered vehicles. Diesel engines can generate more than 100 times more particles than petrol engines and these pollutants are widely accepted to be a health hazard. In urban environments, almost 90 per cent of traffic-generated particulate matter is from diesel exhaust.


Dr Cullinan’s team recruited 60 adults with either mild to moderate asthma and compared the effects on their health from two-hour walks in two different London settings. The first was the western end of London’s busiest shopping street, Oxford Street, where only diesel-powered buses and taxicabs are permitted. The second, by contrast, was a traffic-free section of Hyde Park in central London.


The researchers found that participants walking along Oxford Street saw a greater reduction in lung function than in Hyde Park. The changes were most marked in adults whose asthma was more severe.


Dr Paul Cullinan said, “The results of our study show for the first time that roadside exposure to diesel traffic can be harmful for asthmatics. With over five million people in the UK suffering from asthma, it is important that we that we urgently consider practical ways to reduce harmful emissions from diesel vehicles. Our findings may also help city planners to consider how they lay out future road structures to make sure that, where possible, pedestrians’ exposure to exhaust fumes is minimised.”  


To read the research findings in full, visit: http://content.nejm.org




For further information please contact:


Joanna Parish
Head of media relations

Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust
Direct dial: 020 7351 8672
Mobile: 07866 536 345

Email: j.parish@rbht.nhs.uk   

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