Daily air pollution effects on children's respiratory symptoms and peak expiratory flow

Am J Public Health. 1987 Jun;77(6):694-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.77.6.694.


To identify acute respiratory health effects associated with air pollution due to coal combustion, a subgroup of elementary school-aged children was selected from a large cross-sectional study and followed daily for eight months. Children were selected to obtain three equal-sized groups: one without respiratory symptoms, one with symptoms of persistent wheeze, and one with cough or phlegm production but without persistent wheeze. Parents completed a daily diary of symptoms from which illness constellations of upper respiratory illness (URI) and lower respiratory illness (LRI) and the symptom of wheeze were derived. Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) was measured daily for nine consecutive weeks during the eight-month study period. Maximum hourly concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and coefficient of haze for each 24-hour period, as well as minimum hourly temperature, were correlated with daily URI, LRI, wheeze, and PEFR using multiple regression models adjusting for illness occurrence or level of PEFR on the immediately preceding day. Respiratory illness on the preceding day was the most important predictor of current illness. A drop in temperature was associated with increased URI and LRI but not with increased wheeze or with a decrease in level of PEFR. No air pollutant was strongly associated with respiratory illness or with level of PEFR, either in the group of children as a whole, or in either of the symptomatic subgroups; the pollutant concentrations observed, however, were uniformly lower than current ambient air quality standards. Moreover, since exposure estimation based on monitoring of ambient air likely results in misclassification of the true exposure, the negative findings of this study must be interpreted cautiously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / poisoning*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Forced Expiratory Flow Rates*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Sulfur Dioxide / analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperature


  • Air Pollutants
  • Sulfur Dioxide