Reducing pollution may lead to lower health care costs

According to a study released Wednesday in the Journal of Public Health, children who live close to major transportation routes have a higher risk of developing asthma.

The study examined children in the Long Beach area of Los Angeles. Long Beach, and its neighbor San Pedro, are the busiest ports in the country - meaning that ships, trains and trucks have a constant presence.

"There is a substantial proportion of childhood asthma that may be caused by living within 81 yards of a major road in Long Beach," said researcher Rob McConnell to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. He added that road proximity has a "much larger impact ... on asthma related symptoms and health care use than previously appreciated."

Most of the port's toxic emissions are generated by ships, says the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Trucks account for 20 percent of pollution; lawn equipment and locomotives make up the rest.

Ship emissions are particularly harmful, the study reports: 1,400 cases of asthma-related bronchitis were caused by marine pollution. Ships, unlike most land vehicles, don't have to follow uniform emissions restrictions. As such, their nitrogen oxide emissions are high.

And health problems like asthma developed in childhood lead to higher health care costs throughout life: the AQMD estimates that 4,000 San Pedro-area residents die prematurely each year because of pollution.

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Posted: November 5, 2009

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