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Children with breathing problems may be affected by fine particulate pollution at levels well below the federal standard, according to a new study by a Brigham Young University professor.

The study by C. Arden Pope also found that individuals being treated for asthma needed increased dosages of medication when pollution levels increased. The study appears in the September issue of American Review of Respiratory Disease, a journal affiliated with the American Lung Association.Pope's study, conducted during the winter of 1989-90, tracked 34 fourth- and fifth-grade students with diagnosed asthma or a history of wheezing, and 21 asthma patients under a doctor's care. The children attended schools in Lindon or Orem.

During the study, each participant measured lung function daily and kept a diary of symptoms and medication use. That information was then correlated with fine particulate readings taken over the winter.

Fine particulate pollution or PM10 is caused by dust, woodburning and other combustion processes. The particles measure less than 10 microns in diameter and are capable of penetrating and damaging lung tissue. The primary source of PM10 in Utah County is Geneva Steel.

Under current federal air quality standards, PM10 should not exceed a level of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air during a 24-hour period.

The winter of 1989-90 was mild as far as pollution episodes go; the federal standard was exceeded only twice and pollutant levels crept above 100 micrograms only four other times.

But Pope and three other researchers found that children experienced a 13 percent increase in lower respiratory tract symptoms when PM10 levels ranged from 51 to 100 Continued from B1micrograms.

When pollutant levels climbed above 100 micrograms, children were 53 percent more likely to report wheezing and other respiratory problems.

"We thought it would have taken larger pollution levels to see the effects we did," Pope said. "We saw effects even in relatively healthy children."

The study's results mean the current PM10 standard may be too high to protect the most sensitive people.

"The federal standard is supposed to protect everyone - even those people who are more sensitive to pollution," said Douglas W. Dockery, co-author and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study was also co-authored by John D. Spengler, also of Harvard, and Mark E. Raizenne, Canadian Department of National Health and Welfare.

Pope noted two other findings. Because of the age of the children in the study, he was able to determine that respiratory synctial virus did not cause the respiratory symptoms. Several year ago, an epidemiologist hired by Geneva said the virus, which affects babies and toddlers, was responsible for increased respiratory illnesses during winter months, rather than PM10 levels.

Pope also noted a one- to five-day lag period between increased pollution levels and reports of respiratory symptoms.

Pope's study confirms that pollution in Utah Valley is harmful to health, according to Sam Rushforth, co-founder of the Utah County Clean Air Coalition.

"Even during this mild winter, the air pollution was so bad that reductions in ability to breathe and increases in cough, wheezing and trouble breathing were observed," Rushforth said.

Mitch Haws, director of corporate communication at Geneva, said the company had not seen Pope's study and could not comment on his findings. However, Haws said Geneva is moving as quickly as possible to reduce its emissions.