Asthma and Air Pollution

This page last reviewed July 28, 2014

collage of air pollution and person with nazel spray

Asthma is a serious chronic lung disease that appears to be on the rise in California, the United States and many other countries around the world. The prevalence of asthma in the U.S. has increased by more than 75% since 1980; children and certain racial groups, especially African Americans, have experienced relatively greater increases in asthma prevalence. An estimated 11.9% of Californians - 3.9 million children and adults - report that they have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives, compared to the national average of 10.1%. Nearly 667,000 school-aged children in California have experienced asthma symptoms during the past 12 months. Asthma causes breathing problems due to a narrowing of the airways causing the lungs to get less air. Attacks are characterized by a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing.

Air pollution plays a well-documented role in asthma attacks, however, the role air pollution plays in initiating asthma is still under investigation and may involve a very complex set of interactions between indoor and outdoor environmental conditions and genetic susceptibility. The Research Division of the Air Resources Board has been a leader in developing and supporting research to understand the relationship between air pollution and asthma. Most notably, the ARB-funded Children's Health Study at the University of Southern California found that children who participated in several sports and lived in communities with high ozone levels were more likely to develop asthma than the same active children living in areas with less ozone pollution. In another ARB-funded study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine found a positive association between some volatile organic compounds and symptoms in asthmatic children from Huntington Park. Additional ARB studies are underway and many will focus on the role of particulate matter pollution on asthma. In the Central Valley the ARB F.A.C.E.S. project is examining the role of particulate matter pollution in the exacerbation of childhood asthma.

Studies on the interaction of air pollution and asthma

Children's Health Study

One of the projects the Research Division conducted to examine children's exposures to air pollutants, the harmful effects of air pollution on children's health, and actions needed to reduce children's exposures and risk.


The Fresno Asthmatic Children's Environment Study (F.A.C.E.S.) project was the first to be sponsored under the auspices of the ARB's new Vulnerable Populations Research Program. The study examined the effect of environmental factors, including air pollution, on the progression of asthma in children in Fresno.

Huntington Park Asthma Study

Twenty-six Hispanic children, ages 10 -16, living in Huntington Park, East Los Angeles County, were studied in an investigation funded by ARB and the SCAQMD to evaluate the effect of exposure to volatile organic compounds on asthmatics. The final report for the Evaluation of Health Effects of Toxic Air Pollutants in a Southern California Community can be found in our final report archive on-line at this link.

More information on air pollution and asthma

Indoor Air Quality and Personal Exposure Assessment Program

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) carries out a non-regulatory Indoor Program that includes sponsored research, exposure assessment, development of indoor air quality guidelines, and public education and outreach. The goal of the Indoor Program is to identify and reduce Californian's exposures to indoor air pollutants.

ARB - Community Health Information

It is our goal to ensure that all Californians, especially children and the elderly, can live, work and play in a healthful environment— free from harmful exposure to air pollution. To achieve this goal, we have developed the Community Health Program in order to place a new emphasis on community health issues in our existing programs. These pages will help you better understand the air you breathe and what is being done by the ARB to reduce air pollution. - Additional information from other agencies -

General information and fact sheets on asthma

NHLBI (National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute) - Information on Asthma and Other Lung Diseases

American Lung Association - Asthma Information Page

Asthma information for kids from the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology

Asthma in Schools information from the American Lung Association

Adult Asthma Fact sheet from the American Lung Association

All About Asthma Storybook (Spanish)- pdf

All About Asthma Storybook (English) - pdf

Asthma in Children: News from the National Institutes of Health

Asthma in the United States: A report from the Centers for Disease Control

The California Asthma Public Health Initiative

U.S. EPA - Asthma Resources

For more information please contact Dr. Barbara Weller at 916-324-4816.