Motor vehicles emit millions of pounds of hazardous pollutants into the air each year in the United States that include compounds such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates (fine dust and soot), and toxic air pollutants such as benzene.
These chemical particulates have been linked to lung cancer and breast cancer in adults as well as a host of other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. This was reported in a 65-page policy study by the Connecticut nonprofit, Environment and Human Health, Inc.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that vehicle emissions account for as many as half of all cancers attributed to outdoor air pollution, and account for 1.3 million deaths worldwide each year.
“The main reason for undertaking this study was that we know much more about the causes of adult cancers than we do of the causes of childhood cancers,” said Heck.
“We studied pregnancy exposures because the fetus is likely to be more vulnerable to environmental factors during that time, and we also know that certain childhood cancers originate in utero.”
For the study, Heck and her colleagues identified 3,590 children from the California Cancer Registry born between 1998 and 2007 who could be linked to a California birth certificate and who were five years of age or younger at the time of diagnosis.
Those kids were then compared to 80,224 randomly selected California children in the control group.
UCLA researchers used sophisticated modeling to estimate each child’s exposure to gas and diesel vehicle pollution at home, during each trimester of their mother’s pregnancy with the child and their first year of life. Cancer risk was estimated using a statistical analysis called unconditional logistic regression.
Increases in exposure to traffic-related air pollution positively correlated with increases in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, germ cell tumors and retinoblastoma, according to the study results.