Study Claims Border Truck Pollution Puts Children at High Risk

A new study shows children are being hospitalized and dying at greater rates in a Mexican city along the U.S. border, and pollution from trucks is partly to blame.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation studied children in Jaurez, Mexico, which sits across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and is a major border crossing for trucks hauling goods as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The group’s report blamed increased truck traffic for a rise in hospitalization and deaths among children in Jaurez.

The group was established by the United States, Mexico and Canada to improve the implementation of NAFTA’s environmental requirements.

According to the study, between 1997 and 2001, respiratory distress led to 36,087 emergency visits by children ages 5 and younger at two Juarez hospitals. Mexico’s health standard for ozone was only exceeded 14 times during that period.

The study found “significant associations” between child mortality and particulate matter emitted from diesel trucks and other sources. Of the 696 infants who died during the study’s five-year period, 231 deaths were related to respiratory illness.

When particulate levels were up for two consecutive days, respiratory deaths for poor infants ages one to 12 months increased by 82 percent in following days.

Mortality for children in homes with greater socio-economic status did not increase, researchers noted.

Paul Miller, program coordinator for air quality at the CEC, said similar or higher air pollution levels exist at other crossings along the Mexico-U.S. and Canada-U.S. borders.

“But the Juarez study is an important example because three jurisdictions – the states of Chihuahua, New Mexico and Texas – share the same air,” Miller said. “Solutions to the area’s problems will have to come from cooperative efforts among federal, state, local and industry officials.”

The research indicates Mexico needs to tighten its ozone standards, said Matiana Ramirez Aguilar, a study co-investigator from Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, in a statement.

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“Particulate matter appears to have an adverse effect on young children that are already susceptible because of their reduced capacity to metabolize toxic substances,” Aguilar said. “They’re also at higher risk because of social vulnerabilities related to poverty, malnutrition and poor environment. Ozone, on the other hand, seems to act as an irritant among all children and children with asthma.”

More than one million trucks crossed the border between Juarez and El Paso in 2001 compared to 600,000 in 1996. Researchers said this is the first time the impact of air pollution on poor children in a border city has been formally studied.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently conducting a court-ordered environmental impact statement on truck traffic before Mexican trucks are allowed to operate on U.S. roads outside the immediate border areas.

The DOT is appealing the court order at the same time it is conducting the study.