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A new Colorado State University study will explore how the combination of pesticides and traffic pollution affects children with asthma.
Sheryl Magzamen, an assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, received a career development award of $461,000 from the National Institutes of Health for the three-year project.
The research is significant because little is known about the effect of pesticides on asthma in humans. In addition, most studies of this kind focus on a single pollutant, and Magzamen is looking at both vehicle emissions and pesticides — and what happens when they interact.
“I’m trying to capture more of the total environment and look at more than one factor at a time,” she said. “We know that pollution is associated with decreased lung function. We don’t know that about pesticides at this point. We also don’t know if they potentially interact to cause greater impacts on respiratory health.”
Her study will focus on the San Joaquin Valley in California because sections of that valley are subjected to heavy pesticide use as well as severe traffic pollution. In addition, California is one of only two states that require commercial operators to report all pesticide applications, including the amount and type used. That gives Magzamen another reason to focus on the valley: She’ll be able to use a public database to compare levels of pesticide use to asthma patterns in children.
Plus, there is a plethora of historical data on asthmatic children in the region. Magzamen will draw on findings from the Fresno Asthmatic Children’s Environment Study (FACES), which was conducted from 2000 to 2008 by a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, to monitor the effects of air pollution on kids with asthma.
From FACES, Magzamen will collect a variety of new data about enrolled children, from urine samples to the types and amounts of dust in their homes. She will also document the addresses of their homes and schools to determine proximity to sources of pesticides and air pollution. The goal is to assess lung function in participants and detect patterns that may correlate with how close they are to areas of heavy agricultural activity or traffic.
“We’ll also look at whether the timing of exposure to pollution plays a role in respiratory outcomes, like if there are sensitive ages or changes in exposure due to a drought year,” Magzamen said.
The project could provide insights for Colorado and other states that are home to significant agricultural activity and population growth, which often correlates with more air pollution.
“In the past, the San Joaquin Valley may have been considered unique because of the proximity to agricultural land and heavily trafficked roads,” Magzamen said. “As the Northern Front Range grows, we might start to see the same combination of pollutants.”
She added that future studies could focus on occupational hazards for agricultural workers and their children.
“We could look at whether farmers are bringing home pesticides on their clothing and exposing their families,” Magzamen said. “The ultimate goal is to create a body of scientific research to inform health policy.”