Add To Favorites

Children and Ozone Air Pollution Fact Sheet

By: the American Lung Association

While exposure to ozone air pollution causes adverse health effects in most people, children are especially susceptible to these effects. Children spend significantly more time outdoors, especially in the summertime when ozone levels are the highest.
National statistics show that children spend an average of 50 percent more time outdoors than do adults.

A recent study conducted by the American Lung Association shows that as many as 27.1 million children age 13 and under, and over 1.9 million children with asthma are potentially exposed to unhealthful levels of ozone based on the new 0.08 ppm, eight-hour ozone level standard.

Minority children are disproportionately represented in areas with high ozone levels. Approximately 61.3% of black children, 69.2% of Hispanic children and 67.7% of Asian-American children live in areas that exceed the 0.08 ppm ozone standard, while only 50.8% of white children live in such areas.

Children spend more time engaged in vigorous activity (i.e., exercise). Such activity results in breathing in more air, and therefore more pollution being taken deep into the lungs. A California study found that children spend three times as much time engaged in sports and vigorous activities as adults do.

Children have a higher breathing rate than adults relative to their body weight and lung surface area. This results in a greater dose of pollution delivered to their lungs. Most biological air pollution damage is related to the dose of pollution inhaled in relation to the body weight and surface area of the target organ.

Even when children experience significant drops in lung function, they do not seem to suffer or report some of the acute symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, associated with ozone exposure in adults. Thus, children are not likely to receive or may not understand the biological warnings to reduce their ozone exposure by stopping their exercise or moving indoors.

Children have narrower airways than do adults. Thus, irritation or inflammation caused by air pollution that would produce only a slight response in an adult can result in a potentially significant obstruction of the airways in a young child.

During exercise, children, like adults, breathe with both their nose and mouth rather than just their noses. When the nose is bypassed during the breathing process, the filtering effects of the nose are lost, therefore allowing more air pollution to be inhaled.

Air pollution, including ozone, can result in more frequent respiratory infections in children due to impairment of the lung's ability to defend itself. Scientists are concerned that children who experience more frequent lower respiratory infections may be at greater risk of lower-than-normal lung function later in life.

When ozone levels are high, children should avoid calisthenics, soccer, running and other strenuous outdoor exercise. They should be encouraged to participate in less strenuous activities such as recreational swimming, swinging or indoor activities such as floor hockey and gymnastics instead.