NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., delivered a keynote address at the March 2-5 meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) in Orlando, Florida. She was introduced by NIEHS grantee Dave Peden, M.D., who is the immediate past president of AAAAI and a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
Birnbaum spoke as the fifth annual recipient of the AAAAI Foundation and Dr. William and Judith H. Busse Lectureship: Investing Together in Our Future Award. It is one of 10 named lectureships established by the foundation.
Global is local
“I’m interested in helping people understand that global issues and local issues are often the same thing,” Birnbaum said in a preview of the 2018 keynote presentation.
“We might think that our air is clean compared to other parts of the world, but their air doesn’t stay in one place,” she pointed out. “It will redistribute and come to us. We know that this affects health even when pollution levels are below our regulatory limits.”
Air pollution is a topic of concern to the researchers and clinicians who attended her talk. Birnbaum pointed out that only since the 2000s have scientists and health professionals begun to understand that the effects of air pollution, especially particulate matter, extend beyond the lungs and respiratory system.
“[Particulate matter] affects everything from learning and memory to the rate of Alzheimer’s disease, autism, obesity, cancers and other diseases,” she pointed out in the preview. For example, Birnbaum said NIEHS grantees reported that children with autism were three times as likely to have been exposed during their first year of life to higher traffic-related air pollution, compared with control children with typical development.
Traffic emissions and lung health
Among the research findings Birnbaum shared were links between traffic-related air pollution and impaired lung function in children. For example, near-roadway and regional air pollution have independent adverse effects on lung function in children.
“Living less than 200 meters from major roads was associated with increased incidence and persistence of asthma,” she added. Other peer-reviewed publications that she shared demonstrated air pollution’s impacts on IQ, cognition, behavior in children, type 2 diabetes, and low birth weight.
NIEHS has more information available on the Environmental Health Topic — Air Pollution webpage.
Changing climate and health
AAAAI members learned about other impacts associated with a changing worldwide climate, including increased storm-related flooding and associated mold growth, as well as wildfires, which all contribute to particulates.
“We are building the capacity for researchers to respond to [these and other kinds of] disasters,” said Birnbaum, describing the National Institutes of Health Disaster Research Response (DR2) Program. NIEHS, in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine, serves as the lead for the DR2 Program.
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