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HK's bad air linked to childhood asthma

Thu Sep 21, 2006

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's bad air may be responsible for a significant jump in children being admitted to hospital for asthma, a six-year study has found.

The study, published in the June issue of the medical journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy that is soon to be distributed, is certain to heighten concerns over the city's worsening air pollution.

Companies in Hong Kong have blamed the territory's air pollution for driving away some expatriates and making it more difficult to recruit foreign workers in recent years.

Using hospital admission records in the years 1997 through 2002, researchers at the University of Hong Kong found that a total of 26,663 children were admitted into hospital for asthma during the six-year period.

After days when pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone and respirable suspended particulates were especially high, the numbers of children admitted for asthma would rise by 13 percent on average, according to the study.

"Polluted air is triggering such bad asthma that they need to be admitted into hospital. (And these cases) are just a tip of the iceberg," Lee So-lun, honorary clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said on Thursday.

The children in the study were all under 18.

Lau Yu-lung, professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the university, said children were far more vulnerable to bad air than adults.

"A child's lungs and immune system are not as developed, and they only mature with time. Their ability to expel waste is also weaker, so they are more vulnerable," Lau said at a news briefing.

They are also more active than adults and likely to spend more time outdoors even on days when air is bad.

Experts attribute the worsening pollution on vehicles and power plants in Hong Kong and tens of thousands of factories just over the border in mainland China.

For years, governments on both sides of the border have discussed plans to clean up the air, but no tangible results have been observed.

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