People near freeways are exposed to 30 times the concentration of dangerous particles

October 17, 2002

People who live, work or travel within 165 feet downwind of a major freeway or busy intersection are exposed to potentially hazardous particle concentrations up to 30 times greater than normal background concentrations found at a greater distance, according to two recently published UCLA studies.

The studies -- published in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association and in Atmospheric Environment -- show that proximity to a major freeway or highway dramatically increases exposure to "ultrafine" particles (tiny particles less than 0.1 micrometers in diameter), which are linked to neurological changes, mild pulmonary inflammation and cardiovascular problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, and ultrafines represent the very smallest particles inhaled by the public.

Traffic-related air pollution is of great concern to Los Angeles, which has the most severe particle air-quality problem in the United States. The Los Angeles Basin is home to more than 15 million residents and 10 million vehicles contributing to its daily traffic. Motor vehicle emissions represent the most significant source of ultrafine particles. Moreover, recent toxicological studies have shown that ultrafine particles are more toxic than larger particles, potentially leading to increased mortality and illness with increased exposure to particulate matter.

"We believe this is the first study conducted in the United States that provides a detailed spatial profile of ultrafine particles near freeways," said William C. Hinds, a professor of environmental health sciences in the UCLA School of Public Health, who co-authored the studies with Yifang Zhu, a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health.

The studies, conducted through the Southern California Particle Center and Supersite (SCPCS), assessed the size-distribution and concentration of the tiny ultrafine particles near major freeways. The first study focused on Interstate 405, one of the nation's busiest freeways, with 93 percent of the traffic composed of gasoline-powered cars. The second study looked at the 710 freeway, which has more than 25 percent of its traffic derived from heavy-duty diesel trucks.

By measuring the number of particles and their size at varying distances from the 405 and 710, Hinds and Zhu concluded that the number of ultrafine particles downwind near both freeways was approximately 25 to 30 times greater than the number upwind. The drop in the number of ultrafine particles occurred rapidly with increasing distance from the freeway, falling to 30 percent of peak concentration at 330 feet. The rapid decrease and dilution in particle concentration was due to several factors, including atmospheric dispersion, coagulation, and wind direction and speed.

Both Hinds and Zhu concur that better understanding of the size and concentration of ultrafine particles is vital, particularly in a city with 85 million vehicle-miles traveled on its freeways on an average day.

"The objectives of the study include providing scientists with a way to predict exposure concentrations to ultrafine particles near freeways in order to facilitate health studies and provide data for the development of an air-quality standard for ultrafine particles," Zhu said.

The studies also examined the concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO), black carbon (BC) and particle mass. Both CO and BC concentrations are closely related to vehicle emissions. Like ultrafines, CO and BC concentrations decreased significantly (70 percent to 80 percent) within the first 330 feet downwind of the freeway. This confirms the notion that vehicular exhaust is a major source of these pollutants near a major roadway.

The SCPCS -- housed in the School of Public Health and the Institute of the Environment at UCLA, and funded by the EPA's Science To Achieve Results (STAR) program and California Air Resources Board -- brings together outstanding scientists from leading universities throughout the nation to create dynamic new ways of investigating the health effects of particulate matter and to secure the protection of public health by better informing policy.
-end-
Funding for the studies was provided by the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, and supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Other study authors include Constantinos Sioutas, deputy director of SCPCS and associate professor of environmental engineering at USC, and Seongheon Kim and Si Shen of the department of civil and environmental engineering at USC.

For more information about the study, call Wendy Hunter at (310) 794-5980. To find out more about SCPCS and its research, visit the center Web site at www.scpcs.ucla.edu.

University of California - Los Angeles

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.