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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Faculty Link Poor Air Quality with Respiratory Symptoms

Rutgers School of Public Health alumna Ms. Saisattha Noomnual and faculty member Dr. Derek G. Shendell, have linked respiratory symptoms among adult street vendors with poor outdoor air quality in highly congested, developing urban locales. Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) contains various toxic compounds, like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter of various size fractions. Rapid urbanization in less developed countries has resulted in steady increases in traffic since the early 2000s, putting residents at risk for asthma, allergies, and respiratory airway inflammation as well as cardiovascular diseases.

[Photo: Ms. Saisattha Noomnual (left)]

Many toxic automobile emissions are well-known, like carbon monoxide; others, like formaldehyde and smaller size fractions of particulate matter, are not. Particulate matter of less than 10 microns (PM10) can be respirable; fine particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is even more easily inhaled. As urbanization in less developed countries progresses, people who work and spend time outdoors have become particularly susceptible and vulnerable to the risks associated with TRAP exposure.

The Rutgers researchers identified several locations throughout Bangkok, Thailand, a mega-city whose population of cars nearly doubled between 2003 and 2012. There, they approached street vendors and asked questions about their health. Most reported symptoms like headache, fatigue, and eye irritation; however, 50 percent reported lower respiratory symptoms, while 37 percent spoke of upper respiratory issues. Furthermore, while 20 percent of respondents sometimes or usually used some form of personal protective equipment, like a mask, those respondents reported using either surgical or dust masks; an N-95 respirator would be required to filter the type of particulate matter present in these environs.

“This pilot study presents new exposure data surrounding some of the factors influencing respiratory health among people who spend significant amounts of time at ground level in densely packed, congested urban areas,” according to Dr. Shendell. Ms. Noomnual, who conducted the study as part of her MPH fieldwork requirements, further stated, “more research is required to develop effective strategies for limiting or mitigating exposure to pollutants including chemical toxicants and biological toxins, such as, quantitative measures like personal air monitoring, time activity patterns, biomarkers, and interventions tested.”

Risk of adult street vendor exposure to traffic related air pollution in Bangkok, Thailand” was published in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment:  An International Journal