Meteorologically estimated exposure but not distance predicts asthma symptoms in schoolchildren in the environs of a petrochemical refinery: a cross-sectional study
Environmental Health 2009, 8:45doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-45
|Published:||25 September 2009|
Community concern about asthma prompted an epidemiological study of children living near a petrochemical refinery in Cape Town, South Africa. Because of resource constraints and the complexity of refinery emissions, neither direct environmental measurements nor modelling of airborne pollutants was possible. Instead a meteorologically derived exposure metric was calculated with the refinery as the putative point source. The study aimed to determine whether (1) asthma symptom prevalences were elevated compared to comparable areas in Cape Town and (2) whether there was an association between asthma symptom prevalences and the derived exposure metric.
A cross-sectional study was carried out of all consenting school children aged 11 to 14 years attending schools in a defined area, utilizing the International Study of Asthma and Allergy in Childhood (ISAAC) written and video questionnaires. Information was collected on potential confounders, e.g. parental history of atopic disease, active and passive smoking by the participant, birth order, number of children in the home and distance from a major road. The exposure metric combined residential distance of each child from the refinery with a wind vector in the form of wind speed, wind direction and proportion of the year blown.
A total of 2,361 children from 17 schools met the criteria for inclusion. In multivariate analysis, meteorologically estimated exposure (MEE), but not simple distance from the refinery, was positively associated with having to take an inhaler to school [odds ratio per interquartile range (OR) 1.22, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.06 - 1.40], and with a number of video elicited asthma symptoms, including recent waking with wheezing (OR 1.33, 95% CI 1.06-1.66) and frequent wheezing at rest (OR 1.27, 95% CI 1.05 - 1.54). Symptom prevalences were higher than in other areas of the city, with frequent waking with wheezing being in great excess (OR 8.92, 95% CI 4.79-16.63).
The results support the hypothesis of an increased prevalence of asthma symptoms among children in the area as a result of refinery emissions and provide a substantive basis for community concern. The methodology also provides a low cost means of testing hypotheses about point source pollutant effects on surrounding populations of children.