Freeways pose risks to youths living near
The findings will have profound effects on plans for highways and schools.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Growing up near a freeway stunts a child's breathing capacity for a lifetime, significantly increasing the risk of serious lung and heart diseases later in life, according to researchers who monitored thousands of Southern California children for up to eight years.
The landmark study, led by a team of University of Southern California scientists and released Thursday, delivers a sobering answer to a long-standing question about the health effects of being raised near a busy roadway where air is chronically polluted.
These children not only are more likely to develop asthma, but their lung development can be permanently cut short, increasing their odds of having a heart attack or a life-threatening respiratory condition, starting as early as their 50s.
"It's a big risk factor," said James Gauderman, the author and principal investigator of the study by researchers at USC's Keck School of Medicine.
"If you've got less lung capacity, and you get hit with the flu or pneumonia, you've got less reserve to fall back on," Gauderman said.
The findings carry profound policy implications nationwide for agencies that monitor and regulate air pollution, for locally elected officials who determine where to place new roads and housing tracts, and for education officials who buy property for new schools, California air quality regulators said Thursday.
"This is a pretty significant finding. It strengthens the information we need for some of our control programs," said Richard Bode, chief of the health and exposure branch of the state Air Resources Board.
Earlier studies measuring the environmental fallout on neighbors of Southern California freeways prompted the state regulators to go beyond their traditional scope of regional air quality and begin examining local "hot spots."
In the past six years, studies have focused on predominantly low-income neighborhoods near heavy industry, ports, railyards -- including the Union Pacific hub in Roseville -- and at schools on busy roads, such as the Arden Middle School on Watt Avenue in Carmichael.
The USC study draws data from the state-funded Children's Health Study, a long-term investigation of respiratory health that has been tracking thousands of schoolchildren since 1993. The project is the largest air pollution health effects study ever undertaken, Gauderman said