I remember well my first trip to New York. Although the sun was shining brightly, my lungs told me that air quality was not good. My asthma was in full force throughout the trip.

I was actually in town for a business conference. Fortunately, it is also where one of my daughters, Sarah, and her husband moved to from London. On most evenings after the conference meetings had ended, I could go visit them. Despite thoroughly enjoying my visit with Sarah and David, I could not wait to return home to take a deep breath of clean air.

Shortly after that first trip, Sarah was pregnant with her first baby. Of course, we were all thrilled. That’s when I started reading about the effects of air pollution and other toxins in infants and children.

A study conducted by University California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Air Pollution Impacts on Infants and Children, by Beate Ritz MD, PhD, and Michelle Wilhelm, PhD, states that, “In our studies of births during 1990-2003 to women residing in the SoCAB (Southern California) we consistently found that mothers exposed to high levels of CO (carbon monoxide) and particles during pregnancy are at higher risk of adverse birth outcomes, including preterm delivery, low birth weight, and congenital heart defects.

Studies conducted in other urban locations around the world reported similar adverse effects of air pollution (especially for carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter) on fetal development, but preterm birth and low birth weight have recently also been linked to ozone and nitrogen dioxide exposures.” They also conclude that, “…the most important source of the air pollutants we identified as relevant is vehicle exhaust, which is a complex mix of many gases and particles.”

According to this study, children’s lungs continue to develop to 2 years of age. Imagine then how any type of air pollution could damage these small, developing lungs.

Additionally, the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that, “…steel dust generated in the New York City subway significantly increases the total amount of airborne iron, manganese, and chromium that riders breathe. The airborne levels of these metals associated with fine particulate matter in the subway environment were observed to be more than 100 times greater than levels observed in home indoor or outdoor settings in New York City.”

I am not saying people should stop taking subways; indeed, airborne particulate matter would increase if people began driving more, or taking more taxis instead of using this mass transit. However, I do not believe underground subway is the place for small children or infants. Additionally, the UCLA research showed that children who played outdoor sports when ozone levels were high, had more respiratory issues and illnesses.

It can be a difficult balancing act when trying to do what’s best for your children. The doctor’s office is a twenty-minute subway ride, or a 50-minute bus ride. Your child’s soccer practice is every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, despite the ozone level. We can only try our best to make healthy choices for our children. After all, their lives or quality of life, can depend on it.

-- Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net