Russia's housing conditions linked to high rates of asthma amongst children

Scientists from the University of Birmingham, UK, have worked with the Harvard School of Public Health and universities in Russia to look for the first time at environmental factors causing breathing problems in Russian children. New synthetic floorings and furnishings are blamed for asthma and wheezing, along with dampness, traffic pollution and tobacco smoke.

5,500 Russian school children were studied to assess the effect of housing conditions and respiratory health.  It was found that the risks of asthma, wheezing and allergic diseases are linked to the installation of new surface materials, furniture and recent painting in the children's homes.  These new materials have higher potential chemical emissions.

In addition, factors associated with poor ventilation and environmental tobacco smoke increase rates of respiratory problems.  A large percentage of the population live in concrete apartment buildings where heating and hot water are supplied by a central system and gas is used for cooking which can be a further irritant.  Mould can also be a problem.

Lead Researcher Professor Jouni Jaakkola, from the Institute of Occupational Health, University of Birmingham explains: "Our study provides important insights to the role of indoor air pollutants in children's respiratory problems. Exposure to tobacco smoke, moulds related to damp housing and chemical emissions from synthetic surface materials and furniture are likely to increase respiratory illness in children. These findings are applicable to millions of children living in similar housing worldwide. Some of the remedies are well known. Smoking indoors, especially in the presence of children, should be banned. Dampness in building structures need fast attention. We need more studies to identify the safest and the most hazardous surface materials."

However, figures for asthma symptoms in other studies put Russian rates at 2%, while the United Kingdom, The United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australian figures are between 12% and 20%.  The authors of these studies suggest that this is inaccurate as differences in access the health care, diagnostic practice and environmental and dietary factors are plausible explanations for the large variation.  Rates for wheezing and allergic conditions are similar in all these countries.

Two papers on the work are published in the April edition of the American Journal of Public Health.  Russian scientists from Moscow and Yekateringburg collaborated with Prof John Spengler from Harvard School of Public Health, and Prof Jaakkola.The full papers are published in the American Journal of Public Health - April 2004, Vol 94, No 4.  http://www.ajph.org

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