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Black women hard hit by traffic fumes

17th January 2012

African-American women in Los Angeles seem to suffer the worst from traffic-related air pollution, suffering diverse effects such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

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Jiu-Chiuan Chen, who studies air pollution and human health at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and who was not involved in the study, said that the research had big implications for public health.

On average, African-American women already have higher rates of diabetes and blood pressure than white women.

Almost half of all black women in the US, 44%, have high blood pressure, while 11% of black women have diabetes.

On the other hand, 28% of white women have high blood pressure, and 7% of white women are diabetic.

Lead researcher Patricia Coogan, of Boston University, said that researchers had only been able to measure average air pollution levels near the study subjects' homes for a relatively short span of time.

She said that more research was needed before scientists could reach a general conclusion about women in all cities in the US.

But previous studies have shown that air polution can be linked to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and mortality in general.

And African-Americans tend to live in areas with the highest air pollution, which includes high levels of traffic-related nitrogen oxides.

For the study, the researchers first recruited study subjects through a magazine subscription in 1995.

None of the women had diabetes or hypertension when the study began.

But 10 years later, 531 women had developed high blood pressure, and 183 women were determined to be diabetic.

When the researchers made a demographic analysis of their study subjects, they found that, statistically speaking, that meant that African-American women were 25% more likely to develop diabetes and 14% more likely to develop hypertension, if they lived in polluted areas.

The researchers were not able to include air pollution levels en route to people's workplaces, however.

Since there was no way to objectively measure total traffic pollution in the areas where the study subjects lived, the researchers simply made evaluations of nitrogen oxides.

They also included levels of fine particulate matter dissolved in air, another measurement of traffic pollution.

Traffic, power plants, and factories can all contribute to high levels of nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter.

And previous studies have shown that there is a link between diabetes and fine particulate matter that makes its way into the bloodstream.

Chen said that policy makers needed to realise that people did not always have control over where they lived, and that some areas were more dangerous to live in than others.

 

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