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Let’s Clear the AirAbout Freeways

Posted Sep 12 2008 5:02pm

Ah, it’s good to have escaped Southern California for the fresh, clean air of Chicago. What? Hey, stop laughing. Downtown Chicago smells like chocolate in the mornings thanks to this factory.

So what if buses spew black, lung-clogging diesel into the faces of pedestrians? Who can resist dead-body smell that wafts up from the sewers? Who cares if my clothes smell like an ashtray just because I walk a few blocks to my office every morning?

And what’s wrong with fine, steel dust scraped from rail tracks and lifted into the atmosphere? We all need a little iron in our diet, right?

At least we don’t live on top of a lung-killing freeway anymore.

Oh wait, we do. Well, maybe. I’m not sure if the 15 floors between us and Lake Shore Drive keeps the worst air from rising up into our lungs. Maybe.

What got me going on this track? The Los Angeles Times has a story today reconfirming that children growing up in Upland near the I-10 freeway – we lived further north next to a highway with fewer trucks – could expect an average 9 percent reduction in their breathing capacity by their 18th birthday. (This study, which I mentioned in the lung-killing freeway link above, just announced its conclusions in the journal Lancet.)

The closer a child grows up to a busy, dirty – think diesel – road or highway, the more damage to their lungs, the study finds. It doesn’t even matter whether you are in the city or not – country children growing next to a busy road will see the same negative effects. That said, living in a more polluted city will double the problems.

How far do your kids need to be from these roads? The worst effects were seen for those living within 500 yards from the freeway.

While the story fails to answer how many Americans live close to a freeway, one source estimates that 17 percent of Long Beach residents live within 500 yards of a dirty highway. Based on the story, I would say kids need to be upwards of 1,500 yards away for protection.

“This tells me that I wouldn’t want to be raising my children near a significant source of fine-particle air pollution,” C. Arden Pope III of Brigham Young University, an expert on air pollution not involved in the study, tells the Times. “I, myself, would want to be living in areas where the exposure is lower.”

Me too. Hon, we’re moving to the Yukon!

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