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Poor Children on Mexico-U.S. Border Dying from Air Pollution

Children Inhale Higher Percentage Of Pollution (1998)
(ENS) MEXICO CITY -- Children from poor neighborhoods in the Mexico-U.S. border city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua are being hospitalized and dying because of air pollution at levels within Mexico's current health standards, says a new study released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

It is the first time a study has measured air pollution impacts on children living in poor conditions along the border. Investigators say that to prevent some of these child fatalities, the Mexican air pollution standards should be revised.

The CEC was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to build cooperation among the three partners in implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement's (NAFTA) environmental accord.

"Children were being rushed to the hospital on days when no air quality alarms were sounding," says Dr. Matiana Ram’rez Aguilar, a co-investigator in the study from the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico City.

"This suggests that lower levels of ozone affect children's respiratory health and that action should be taken to revise Mexico's standards," she said at a press conference to launch the report.

Between 1997 and 2001, two Ciudad Juarez hospitals received 36,087 emergency visits from children younger than five suffering respiratory distress.

During the same time period, Mexico's health standard for ground level ozone, or smog, which requires that the government take action to improve air quality, was only exceeded 14 times.

Child mortality was linked to diesel truck emissions of tiny particles 10 micrometers or less in diameter (PM10), the research team found. In 2001, more than one million trucks crossed the border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.

Although airborne PM10 levels exceeded the legal standard on only a few occasions, nearly one in every three of the 696 children aged one month to one year who died during the study's five year period, were related to respiratory illness.

When levels of PM10 were elevated for two consecutive days, respiratory deaths among infants up to one year old in lower income families increased by 82 percent in the following days. But infants in families with higher income levels suffered no similar increase in mortality. Still, researchers caution, these estimates are based on only 41 deaths.

"Particulate matter appears to have an adverse effect on young children that are already susceptible because of their reduced capacity to metabolize toxic substances. They're also at higher risk because of social vulnerabilities related to poverty, malnutrition and poor environment," says Ram’rez. "Ozone, on the other hand, seems to act as an irritant among all children, and children with asthma."

The NAFTA has led to an increase in truck traffic at border points in Mexico, Canada and the United States. For residents of Ciudad Juarez, this means increased exposure to the pollution emitted from cars and trucks moving between Mexico and the United States. One of the main characteristics of Ciudad Juarez is the migratory flow across the border, mainly due to the increasing maquiladora industry and the rapid increase in the population with unplanned settlement, the study states.

Several of the roadways in this city of over one million people are deteriorated and others are unfinished. These situations produce severe traffic congestion and increased air pollution, which is made worse because of a deteriorated vehicle fleet.

Taking this exposure into account, a followup study in Ciudad Juarez measured air pollution from 28 school rooftops near busy highways and border traffic areas in the region, with field researchers testing the breath flow of 101 students.

Dr. Fernando Holguin, researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, says, "Preliminary results suggest that in asthmatic children attending schools that are in close proximity to major roads, traffic density is associated with increased airway inflammation."

"Our results emphasize the need for the implementation of cost effective interventions to control existing air pollution problems and prevent the existing situation from worsening," the researchers advise.

Paul Miller, program coordinator for air quality at the CEC, said, "These results are not unique to Ciudad Juarez. Similar or even higher air pollution levels exist at other crossings along the Mexico-U.S. and Canada-U.S. borders."

Miller suggests that because three jurisdictions -- the states of Chihuahua, New Mexico and Texas -- share the same air, solutions to these air pollution problems "will have to come from cooperative efforts among federal, state, local and industry officials."

This city is representative of many Mexico-U.S. border cities with a growing population and poor environmental conditions and may also be representative of other urban populations in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the study's authors conclude. In addition, the air pollution levels observed in the study are commonly observed in many urban areas in the region.

Poverty, malnutrition and unhealthy environmental conditions are "highly prevalent," the authors say, "which may increase both exposure to contaminants and childrenŐs susceptibility to the effects of contaminants."

Read the full report "Health Impacts of Air Pollution on Morbidity and Mortality Among Children of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico" online at:

© 2003 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor November 11, 2003 (

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