Car traffic pollution could cause developmental delays in children, UC Merced study suggests

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A study, lead authored by a UC Merced professor, implies a surprising connection between a child’s development and how close they live to busy roads. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the UC Merced Senate Grant, suggests there’s a link — and that it could lead to developmental delays.

It’s no secret air pollution is harmful to our health, but what we don’t know is how it can affect children as they grow up.

UC Merced public health professor Sandie Ha — with the help of the NIH, New York State Department of Health and the University of Albany — followed over 5,000 children in New York state and tested their motor skills over the years.

“We found that proximity to the highway significantly increased the risk of having a communication by the time the kid was 3-years-old,” Ha said. She adds they found exposure of fine particulate matter and the ozone also yielded similar results.

Concerning conclusions for New York state, but what does that mean for the Central Valley, where the quality of our air is hampered by pollutants all year long? Ha speculates the study’s results could be worse.

“We may see a stronger effect in this region — the relationship between air pollution and the risk of having these developmental delays — because we have higher levels of air pollution,” she said.

While the Central Valley struggles with air problems, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District spokesperson Heather Heinks said air quality is improving. She said it’s thanks to greener technology and better habits over the last 20 years.

“We’re moving the right direction, our efforts are working and we need to continue those efforts to actually reach the standards set by the federal government,” Heinks said.

Pending funding, Ha wants to replicate what she did in New York here in the Central Valley.

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