12:13am Sunday 07 June 2020

Community-Based Health Study Aims to Reduce School-Day Environmental Exposures

Patrick Ryan, PhD, is leading this community-based research project to examine how idling buses and traffic near schools impacts the health of children. His team hypothesizes that levels of traffic-related particles are significantly elevated on school grounds when compared with ambient community levels due to the proximity of school buses and major roads. 

“Our goal is to determine the extent of traffic exposure and implement a strategy to reduce children’s exposure to traffic-related particles while attending school,” says Ryan, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the UC College of Medicine and principal investigator of the study.

Previous research has shown that exposure to traffic-related particles during childhood can exacerbate existing asthma as well as result in more visits to the emergency room for asthma-related symptoms, presenting a major public health concern.
“In the Cincinnati community alone, we have shown that more than 38 percent of our schools are within 400 meters of major roads,” says Ryan. “The potential exposure from the schools’ proximity to roads and idling diesel-powered school buses may also represent a significant source of exposure to harmful ultrafine particles in need of monitoring.”

In March 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its intent to monitor schools for a variety of toxic chemicals, citing concerns over environmental exposures during the school day. UC researchers say they hope their study results will inform public health officials and guide policy reform designed to protect children from harmful environmental exposures.

“Healthy kids have an opportunity to be successful in learning. We’re working on a number of fronts to keep children well and in the classroom. This initiative provides us with an excellent opportunity to further this goal for years to come,” says Noble Maseru, PhD, MPH, health commissioner for the City of Cincinnati.

Through a partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Health Department, Ryan’s team identified more than 100 children, age 6 to 12 with asthma to participate in the study. Four schools were selected to participate based on a combination of factors, including proximity to a major roadway and number of diesel-powered buses on school premises.

During stage 1 of the research project, indoor and outdoor air sampling will be done at both the child’s school and community of residence. Outdoor sampling will occur near school entrances and in bus loading zones. Indoor sampling will take place near classrooms and the cafeteria. Community air sampling will be conducted simultaneously to correlate between school and community-wide exposure.  Children’s medical history and current medical status will be collected by health department-funded school health nurses.

In stage 2 of the project, researchers will implement an anti-idling campaign to reduce diesel exhaust generated by buses on school grounds. Air sampling and clinical assessment of the children will be repeated post-implementation of the anti-idling campaign to document changes.

The public health component, a collaborative effort between all partners will seek to educate bus drivers, teachers, nurses, administrators and parents of students at participating schools about the health impact of traffic-related environmental exposures and how to reduce children’s exposure to them.

“We are a strong supporter of the idea that a healthy environment can lead to improved academic achievement, which is why we are so excited about this opportunity to collaborate with community partners and stakeholders,” says Cynthia Eghbalnia, environmental health and safety coordinator for Cincinnati Public Schools. “Through this grant, we intend to educate our parents and the community on easy ways to minimize air pollution by reducing bus and car idling. We also hope that our collaboration helps motivate other schools and communities to support similar campaigns.”

This UC research study is supported by a $928,579 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Collaborative Community Research Program, which funds projects that address specific public health concerns. The project continues research conducted through the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS), a collaborative effort of UC’s environmental health department and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Grace LeMasters, PhD, professor of environmental health at UC, serves as principal investigator of CCAAPS.  Collaborators on the current study include  Study collaborators include Tiina Reponen, PhD, Sergey Grinshpun, PhD, Erin Haynes, PhD, Grace LeMasters, PhD, Cynthia Eghbalnia, MPH,, Camille Jones MD, MPH, Mohammad Alam, PHD, Marilyn Crumpton MD, MPH, Kim Toole, Ken Sharkey, MPH, and Denisha Garland MPH.

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