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Busy Streets, Increased Pollution?


Could living near a busy road be bad for your health?

It's a topic that's gaining attention. In the past five years, researchers have placed a greater focus on studying the effects of "near-roadway pollution." More research needs to be done, but many scientists are beginning to believe that proximity to highways may impact our health in ways we never considered.

It's a complicated question that concerns not only our health and the environment but also socioeconomics.

"Low-income communities tend to experience higher exposures to emissions from busy highways," said Toby Lewis, MD, a University of Michigan pediatric pulmonologist and asthma researcher, on Friday during a virtual forum hosted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that brought together physicians and scientists on the front lines of the issue.

Another panelist, Rob McConnell, MD—a professor of preventive medicine and director of the Southern California Children's Environmental Health Center at USC—offered advice for reducing the possible risks of urban life on our lungs and overall health.

"If you can take your daily run away from a busy highway, that can do a lot to reduce exposures to air pollution," McConnell said. "A safe distance from a highway to avoid air pollution exposures is typically around 75 meters."

That distance is supported by a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives that found that 8 percent of childhood asthma cases in Los Angeles County were "at least partly attributable to pollution associated with residential location within 75 meters of a major road."

All things equal, if you can buy a house away from a busy highway, that's good for children's health, Lewis said.

The panelists said research has taught us that air pollution can trigger heart attacks and stroke, and there are several studies that show a connection between ambient air pollution and autism spectrum disorder.

More concrete answers are still coming.

"We need more independent studies that examine near-roadway pollution and regional pollution in the same model," McConnell.

In the meantime, Lewis suggests that families advocate with their local communities for safe facilities for their kids to play.