Respiratory diseases and allergies in two polluted areas in East Germany

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Jan;107(1):53-62. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9910753.


This cross-sectional epidemiological study collected health data for 2,470 school children between 5 and 14 years of age (89% of eligible children) who had lived most of their lives in either one of two counties strongly impacted by industrial pollution (Bitterfeld and Hettstedt) or in a neighboring county without any sources of industrial pollution (Zerbst). The objective of the study was to examine whether regional differences--with respect to the occurrence of childhood respiratory diseases and symptoms or allergies--exist and, if such differences are found, whether they persist when we adjust for the effects of known risk factors such as medical and sociodemographic factors or factors related to the indoor environment. Controlling for medical, sociodemographic, and indoor factors, according to parental reports, children residing in Hettstedt have about a 50% increased lifetime prevalence for physician-diagnosed allergies, eczema, and bronchitis compared to children from Zerbst and about twice the number of respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, shortness of breath, and cough without cold. Sensitization to common aeroallergens according to skin prick tests [odds ratio (OR) = 1.38; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.02-1.86] and specific IgE levels (OR = 1.75; CI, 1.31-2.33) was more common for children from Hettstedt than children from the nonpolluted county. Bitterfeld children, on the other hand, more often received a diagnosis of asthma and eczema than children residing in Zerbst and also showed slightly increased sensitization rates. In conclusion, industrial pollution related to mining and smelting operations in the county of Hettstedt were associated with a higher lifetime prevalence of respiratory disorders and an increased rate of allergic sensitization in children between the ages of 5 and 14 years. Further studies are needed to determine what role the high dust content of heavy metals plays in Hettstedt.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Bronchitis / epidemiology
  • Bronchitis / etiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Eczema / epidemiology
  • Eczema / etiology
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Male
  • Respiratory Function Tests


  • Air Pollutants