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Japanese study finds correlation between exhaust fumes and asthma

ByStephanie Nakajima

Jun 4, 2011

According to an NHK online article published on May 25th, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment announced last week its findings that children who were exposed to higher amounts of automobile exhaust fumes had a higher probability of being diagnosed with asthma. Previously, the ministry refused to accept the correlation, claiming scientific evidence on the subject was lacking (despite studies that for years have suggested so: here in Environmental Health Perspectives, a cross-continental study here published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and here in the American Journal of Public Health).

Japanese government finally admits correlation between exhaust fumes and asthma in children; staunchly resolves to do absolutely nothing about it.

In the first study of its kind ever done in Japan, the researchers looked at 12,000 children living near 10 different highway spots in large cities across the country between 2005 and 2010.  They administered a yearly questionnaire, asking parents to estimate how much time the child spent outside and in what areas.  From this information, researchers estimated about how much exhaust they had inhaled.  309 of those children were diagnosed with asthma during that time period; further analysis of the numbers (taking into account previous history of respiratory illness) indicated that living near the highways did increase the likelihood of getting asthma.

Those hoping for policies or solutions that might arise in light of the study shouldn’t (or should?) hold their breath – the ministry states in the NHK  article that they “would like to continue researching the influence of exhaust fumes on health”.

Stephanie Nakajima

Contrarian philosopher, half-woman, half-Japanese, all dolphin.

6 thoughts on “Japanese study finds correlation between exhaust fumes and asthma”
  1. Just to say, I’ve read hundreds of health studies, I think all of which have concluded with “further study” aims. Correlations, after all, can’t ever give a complete picture by themselves..

    p.s. love your website

  2. so… what would you expect to be done? Is pollution there, worse than pollution in the US, and if so/how much? Sure, they know correlations in the US, but that isn’t what caused them to adopt pollution rules in the late 60’s. Back then everyone still smoked…

    I might htink that the reason they’ve been stalling is that there isn’t much to be done, but if they accept the correlation, then they will be expected or required to do something. Short of having everyone ditch to office and move to the country… which isn’t even likely here, much less there. FWIW, I’ve had asthma for 40+ years, so I’ve been reading stuff on it forever. But I did move my family away from big city pollution as I was able to.

    It is my understanding that many people still heat with kerosene there, and not central heat, yeah? I’d bet MONEY that there is a stronger correlation with that, since it is actually in the house.

  3. hey readers!

    thanks for your comments and praise 🙂

    i’m on vacation in Denmark, so haven’t been checking the blog as frequently. i just wanted to point out a few things.

    マイルズ、you are right- correlations can’t give a complete picture by themselves. It seems, thought, the arguments made for this link are pretty compelling.

    Of course, by the nature of the study, we can’t reproduce these results in a lab, so we will never have conclusive, in the strictest sense of the word, evidence of a link (this applies to a large number of scientific studies, でしょう?)So we have to rely on the strength of the arguments- is this a weak or a strong argument? Based on the evidence I have seen, it seems reasonable to think that proximity to a major road plays a part. If you check out those links to other studies i posted, you’ll see evidence showing that not only does the incidence of asthma increases in children who live near roads, but proportionally as one lives nearer and nearer to the road.


    the fact that this study has been done in several different countries, studying several different major roads also adds strength to the argument. A very recent study conducted in Detroit, published in April of this year, produced the same result: “Asthma events were associated with proximity to primary roads with an odds ratio of 0.97 (95% CI: 0.94, 0.99) for a 1 km increase in distance using conditional logistic regression, implying that asthma events are less likely as the distance between the residence and a primary road increases”.

    again, you are right, that the correlation isn’t proof with a capital P; however, and this brings me to my next point, that this information should be available to the Japanese populace without any wringing of hands over the definition of ‘proof’. Truthfully, I haven’t thought out exactly what I believe the government is responsible for doing about this, in an active way, but I do know that delaying acknowledgement of these kinds of problems deprives families of the information with which they will want to make important decisions. Its disappointing to find that this study, although recent, was nearly impossible to dig up on the Ministry of Environment’s website.

    I don’t think large-scale government action is necessary here. The studies have all been focused on children, and the Japanese study actually discovered no effect whatsoever on adults. Perhaps families who are raising small children could choose to avoid taking residence within 75 m of these highways.

    That would be a positive effect of the study.

  4. hello Stephanie Nakajima ! sorry if i am wrong ! they are so many studies about what can make cancer and other things! no soldier from usa, france, russia , japan , germany …. get a fu.. because there is no “connection” betwen 500% more radiation ” also handy , power lines” !! ” every owner from such company should live at such a place with his family to show every 1 there is no risk!!!- hey every 1 do not forget the women soccer wm!! (and cheer up the girls)!!! ike ike nippon!

  5. […] Jake Adelstein is an investigative journalist, consultant, and the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat In Japan. He is also a board member of the  Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project Japan, which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade. Stephanie Nakajima is a writer and managing editor at the Japan Subculture Research Center. She has previously written on TEPCO’s stranglehold on the Japanese media for Number 1 Shimbun and diverse topics such as the fashion model exodus in post-quake Tokyo and environmental issues.  […]

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