Researchers study impact of air quality on human health


A unique, five-year project is currently underway in the Czech Republic, focusing on the long-term impact of air pollution on people living in the heavily-industrial region of north-east Moravia. Over the course of five years, scientists will be comparing the health data of thousands of people from different regions of the country, focusing on those who are most vulnerable to air pollution.

A woman from the north-east city of Ostrava is currently suing the Czech Republic for having developed cancer, which also killed her husband several years ago, arguing that her illness had been caused by the heavy air-pollution in the region. Indeed, smog regulations are now in force in several parts of the region, with levels of dust particles several times exceeding permitted norms.

The impact of air pollution on the most vulnerable groups of people living in the heavily-polluted region of north-east Moravia, such as new-born babies or people working in the outdoors is the focus of a new study, which is currently underway at the University of Ostrava. In the course of the next five years, scientists from Ostrava, together with their colleagues from Prague, Brno, and České Budějovice, will be comparing fertility rates, incidence of respiratory diseases but also changes in the genetic code in around 8,000 people.

Radim Šrám,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková,  Czech Radio
The research costs some 250,000,000 crowns and is co-financed by the European Union. Radim Šrám from the Academy’s Institute of Experimental Medicine heads the project:

“We will be focusing on new-borns and their mothers in the district of Karviná, comparing them to the district of České Budějovice in South Bohemia. Previous studies have shown that this group is the most sensitive to air pollution.

“Another group are city policemen in Ostrava, who will be compared with their colleagues in Prague and České Budějovice. This is the only group working in the open air all day, so if something is wrong, this is one of the most sensitive groups of population.

Photo: Pixabay / CC0
“Another group will be runners or joggers from North Bohemia. We want to see how their higher physical activity affects their morbidity.”

Studies focusing on the link between poor air quality and higher incidence of certain illnesses, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, have already been carried out in the past, but none of them have been so extensive as this one, explains Mr Šrám:

“Thanks to information acquired from previous studies we are now able to study certain figures in greater detail, for example the blood and urine in new-borns and mothers.

“Until now we only focused on polycyclic aromatic hydro-carbons in their urine but now we are going to analyse other contaminants which may affect their health. So this is really quite a new research.”

The research will officially conclude in 2022 but scientists are hoping to continue monitoring their subjects even further to establish new links between air pollution and people’s health.