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Students Help Research Effects Of Air Pollution

Media Release
25 August 2004

Students Help Research Effects Of Christchurch Air Pollution.

Christ’s College boarders are taking part in a unique study which may throw new light on the health effects of air pollution in teenagers. The research is being carried out by the Canterbury Respiratory Research Group at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago.

The 80 volunteer students at the Christchurch boys’ secondary school have been divided into two groups, those with asthma and those without, and are being studied for the effects of high pollution nights on their breathing and potentially their health.

Christchurch has some of the worst air pollution of any city in New Zealand, rising well above World Health Organisation recommended levels on numerous nights during the winter months. 90% of this pollution comes from the burning of wood and coal for home heating purposes.

“The aim of this research is to see if there’re any effects on the students on very high pollution nights,” explains principal investigator Dr Michael Epton.” It’s a major advantage having participants who all live and go to school in the same place. This cuts down the variables which can limit the accuracy of a health effect study such as this.”

The study involves the students providing a sample of breath condensate, or the liquid component of the air we breathe out, plus a urine sample. The tests are being carried out immediately after three high pollution nights, and for further comparison at the beginning and end of winter.

Dr Epton says the students have responded really well to the opportunity to take part in the pollution effects research. Those suffering from asthma are particularly interested to find out the results.

“ We do the breath condensate tests following high pollution nights and we can analyse these samples for the effects of pollution; specifically inflammation of the lung, and secondly the presence of health damaging free radicals,” says Dr Epton.

“The urine samples enable measurement of whether you have actually breathed in particulate pollution. There’s a urine marker which shows if you’ve been exposed to anything that’s been burnt, such as particulates from woodburner smoke.”

The students are carrying out another test themselves. Each has been supplied with a spirometer to measure maximum lung capacity, and record this in a diary. Air pollution levels are monitored in the grounds of Christ’s College using special equipment from Environment Canterbury, Landcare Research, NIWA and the University of Canterbury’s Geography Department.

Dr Epton says researchers expect to finish this original study by the end of winter. It has long been known that pollution affects people with lung and heart problems, but there has until now not been a study under N.Z. conditions which examines a healthy group to determine physiological impacts.

This study is part of a larger air quality study, “Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand” (HAPINZ), commissioned by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Transport. It is being carried out in collaboration with NIWA, Landcare Research, Environment Canterbury and the University of Canterbury. It may form the pilot for a national study looking at pollution in centres throughout New Zealand.

ENDS

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