Debunked: Children more vulnerable to air pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency and its enviro allies claim that children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults. Real data, now revealed for the first time, debunks this notion.

The EPA asserts on it’s web site that:

Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because:

  • Their bodily systems are still developing
  • They eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size
  • Their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms

The state of California states on its web site,

…there has been an increasing awareness in recent years that children may be more susceptible than adults to the harmful effects of air pollutants.

The Natural Resources Defense Council asserts,

Nearly 37 million children live in areas with unhealthy polluted air. Their developing bodies are more susceptible to harm from pollution, yet polluters and their allies in Congress have been trying to weaken existing clean air protections.

The Environmental Defense Fund says,

Children are especially vulnerable to ozone air pollution. For millions of children, high pollution days make it difficult to attend school, to play outside and to simply breathe.

So while regulators are careful to say “may be more vulnerable” (at least on their web sites), the activists simply make the bald-faced assertion that children are more vulnerable to air pollution.

While neither the EPA nor the enviros offer any data to support the notion that children are more vulnerable, we’ve uncovered data that debunk it.

In October 1948, the industrial town of Donora, PA witnessed perhaps the worst air pollution episode in U.S. history. Twenty elderly residents died as a result of the 3-day episode.

But what about the chidlren? What happened to them?

Certainly children were not unaffected by the extreme Donora episode, but as can be seen in the below table from the 1949 Public Health Service report, children were substantially less affected than adults. (Click to enlarge the table.)

Only 15.9% of children under 6, 29% of children between ages 6-12 and 27.3% of children between ages 13-19 were affected as compared to 42.7% of the population as a whole. That children were less affected than adults is a constant regardless of the degree of health effect reported (i.e., mild, moderate or severe).

As Table 10 of the PHS report shows, the duration of symptoms in children was generally less than or comparable to adults.

As Table 11 of the PHS report shows, children seem to have recovered from whatever health effects suffered more quickly than adults. (Click to enlarge the table.)

Table 14 of the PHS reports shows that children with pre-existing heart and lung problems were less affected than adults with those pre-existing conditions.

Could these results be explained by the possibility or likelihood that children spend more time indoors than adults and that indoor air was less polluted than outdoor air — and so children were less exposed to the foul air than adults? Perhaps, but that is speculation and the PHS report does not even allude to the possibility. Rather, the PHS emphasized in the report’s “Summary and Recommendations” section:

Both incidence and severity [of health effects] revealed a direct relationship with increasing age.

So the Donora episode, a severe, real-life air pollution episode that was investigated in detail by the Public Health Service, fails to show that children are more vulnerable air pollution. That beats whatever the EPA and the enviros have offered so far.

14 thoughts on “Debunked: Children more vulnerable to air pollution”

  1. This articles fails to address the facts that a) many of the techniques and tools for measuring the health effects of pollution weren’t invented back in the first half of the last century and b) 21st century Earth is more polluted than in 1948.

  2. 1. As to the availability of “techniques and tools for measuring the health effects of pollution,” the ability to count and tally existed in 1948.
    2. Ambient air in the U.S. is cleaner now than it was in 1948.

  3. I fail to understand why so many people make the assumption that everywhere is more polluted now than in earlier times. I live in the UK, and I can state categorically that our rivers are now much cleaner, ie far less polluted than they were in the 1970s. In the 70s, many major (and minor) rivers had little or no aquatic life. They all do so in 2011. To give a specific example, otters were recently reported on the BBC as having returned to the last remaining English county, having slowly come back across the country since being almost wiped out by pollution in the second half of the 20th century. I think that some people actually like to believe that we are more polluted because it better fits their agenda.

  4. ck, “21st century Earth is more polluted than in 1948”? Is this something you know or simply accept as true? I was born in 1950 and it’s my impression that pollution is drastically reduced in the past 50 years.

  5. ck, the facts that the techniques and tools have advanced does not negate the facts of the case, which are relevant. The adults suffered more, period. As for the 21st century Earth being more polluted than in 1948, that is also your speculation. Industry in most developed countries have regulations on them that did not exist back in 1948. They cannot emit whatever spews from their stacks without scrubbers which remove upwards of 99% of the pollution (so it takes 100 factories to output what 1 did 60+ years ago), they cannot just dump their liquid waste in the nearest stream. Nuclear energy is available now. Lead free gas (another joke) is available now. Clean coal, clean diesel. So while we have more emissions, they are cleaner emissions.

  6. CK, I have to agree that this is probably not the most accurate measurement of minor, long-term health effects like Asthma. However, it does accurately measure the short-term health effects of heavy pollution. Given lack of data to the contrary, we can hypothesise that long term results have a similar distribution.

    As for point 2, please watch Mary Poppins, specifically the Chim-Chimminy scene. Read any book about the yellow smog of the Victorian era, or look at any graph of Historical pollution provided by any environmental agency. You have been fed an outright lie that is disturbingly common. Urban environments in America and Western Europe are far less polluted than in the early 1900s. Here’s the improvement in my city just over the past 20 years (http://hrm.radian.com/houston/pdfs/HRM%20Trends%202011%20Final.pdf).

    Back on topic. This is interesting, but I’d say a long way from actually debunked, Mr. Milloy. Chronic exposure may have significantly different effects than acute exposure. However, I haven’t found a study yet that has non-trivial health effects.

  7. We are taught that in school. Anyone under the age of 30 has been taught from the cradle that man is continually destroying the environment, species extinctions are rapidly accelerating, there won’t be any rainforest in 15 years, and no forests at all in 50. It doesn’t help that the masters of science fiction (Asimov included) made stories still published today that assumed the environmental destruction of the 50s would continue unabated. Those have formed the basis for Future-Earth in science fiction, which is either a Crystal-Spired Utopia or a polluted scavenger world that is nearly toxic to all life.

    The shock when people look at real data is our primary weapon against the Greens. Many people take this data and assume that it’s lies, but basic pictures and descriptions can make them believe the truth.

  8. I grew up in the 40’s in Manchester. Englan. The reason Fogs were called pea soupers was this,,,the fog was greenish colour. The scarves we covered our mouths with were green at the end of our walk to school..
    Open fireplaces that burned caol were outlawed and in most cases the Peasoup fog went away. One should visit the city of Manchester, England and view the beautiful clean Derbyshire Sandstone in it’s natural colour. Yes. the air is cleaner.

  9. by the likelyhood….why is that a likelyhood??? you sloppy, sad fraud.

    Perhaps, but that is speculation and the PHS report does not even allude to the possibility…………

    so opposed to your bad title of your article children could actually be affected greater by air pollution???

    maybe the data is false anyway. maybe you should do the research yourself…so we can all be sure.

  10. What’s the surprise? “For the chillllllldren” never means anything about “children,” it means “if you don’t shut up right now, you’re a baby-killer.”

  11. Ummm. Complete sentences, please?

    I would give a substantial response, but I am uncertain what you are saying. Perhaps if you would calm down and read Mr. Milloy’s point instead of knee-jerking, you could better explain yourself. It is a valid argument that he is overgeneralizing (I made it myself earlier), but this is real data on a real pollution event with an extremely strong and clear trend that shows adults and the elderly are more vulnerable than children to acute pollution events. Unlike say, a 1% increase in heart attacks for 6 hours after being in traffic, this passes all criteria for significance and tenability.

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