Is your city allowing homes and schools dangerously close to highways & risking the health of you and your children?

Photo Source:MIT

Is your city allowing developers to build schools, housing, and day care centers near busy highways?  Because of the health risks of living close to a highway can be high, this is a very dangerous practice.

Even in Los Angeles, where California law makes it illegal to build a school within 500 free of a busy highway, and officials warn against building homes and daycare centers within that pollution zone, tens of thousands of homes have been built dangerously close to highways in the last few years.

The health risks of traffic-related air pollution are serious. Traffic-related air pollution is known to cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, and to trigger asthma attacks.

In addition, though causality has not been in many cases been proven, traffic-related air pollution been linked to a number of other health problems in adults, some very serious.  Examples include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cognitive decline, reduction in brain volume, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, dementia, cardiovascular diseases, and strokes, high blood pressure, premature death, respiratory disease, and suicide.

In children, traffic-related air pollution has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression, autism and autism spectrum disorder, birth defects, brain cancer, impulsivity and emotional problems, insulin resistance & diabetes, leukemia, low birth weight, lupus, lung damage and other respiratory problems, mental illness, obesity, preterm birth, and reduced intelligence.

The cause of these problems?  Traffic-related air pollution contains dozens of toxins, including particulate matter and nitrogen oxides and as many as 40 other toxins from diesel exhaust, and carbon monoxide, toluene, and benzene from automobiles.

How close is too close?  Scientists cannot yet answer that question authoritatively, but there are indications that health risks are very high within 500 feet of a major highway – and even double that distance is not safe. 

For example, studies have found increased respiratory health problems in children who live or go to school within 100 meters (~330 feet) of a busy roadway, with the greatest risks appearing in the first 50 meters (~165 feet).

For adults, those living:

  • close to densely trafficked roads were at a far higher risk of stroke and dementia than those who lived farther away, and

  • within 1,500 feet of the highway were likely to have 14 percent more C-reactive protein in their blood than those who lived more than a half-mile away. Higher amounts of the protein indicate a higher likelihood of a stroke or heart attack.

Are there things you can do to protect yourself even if you can’t move to a home in a safer location?  Yes, the Lancet reports that your government can cut particulate matter in neighboring communities in half by installing noise barriers and vegetation along the highway, and you can reduce the amount that gets into your home by attaching filters to your and air conditioning systems.  These measures won’t solve the problem, but they can reduce the levels of air pollution you inhale, and lower your health risks.

You can make your city safer.  Protect yourself and your community by educating your public officials on the health risks of near roadway pollution and demand that they put measures in place to protect you and your children.  

To learn more about what you can do, come to the free 4th International Moving Forward Network Conference on October 13-14. This is a rare opportunity, so if you would like to help your family and community, sign up today!

For more background on this subject, see these resources:

New evidence of the dangers of living near highways, Boston Globe

Living Near Highways and Air Pollution, American Lung Association

Living Near A Highway Is Terrible For Your Health. 1 In 10 Americans Do It, Think Progress

Living close to a major roadway could increase dementia risk, study says, CNN

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease, LA Times

New studies cast dark cloud over air pollution, The Lancet

L.A. warns homebuilders, but not residents, of traffic pollution health risks, LA Times

L.A. keeps building near freeways, even though living there makes people sick, LA Times

The invisible hazard afflicting thousands of schools, The Center for Public Integrity

Air pollution exposure may increase risk of dementia

The excellent article below, published with the permission of the authors, makes a strong case that exposure to particulate matter may cause one in five cases of dementia, and includes links to lots of additional information.

The article doesn’t focus on the sources of particulate matter or the fact that diesel particulate matter is particularly dangerous, since it typically includes over 40 toxins.  For more on that subject, see Overview: Diesel Exhaust and Health, by the California Air Resources Board.



Caleb Finch, University of Southern California and Jiu-Chiuan Chen, University of Southern California

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that eventually strips sufferers of their ability to remember, communicate and live independently. By 2050, it is projected to affect nearly 14 million Americans and their families, with an economic cost of one trillion dollars – more than the estimated combined total for treating heart disease and cancer. The Conversation

Of the leading causes of death in America, Alzheimer’s disease is the only one that we currently cannot prevent, cure or even stall. Our latest research seeks to change this situation by providing a better understanding of the environmental causes and mechanisms behind the disease.

Our findings lead us to conclude that outdoor air pollution, in the form of tiny particles released from power plants and automobiles that seep into our lungs and blood, could nearly double the dementia risk in older women. If our results are applicable to the general population, fine particulate pollution in the ambient air may be responsible for about one out of every five cases of dementia.

This study, the first to combine human epidemiologic investigation with animal experiments, adds to a growing body of research from around the world that links air pollution to dementia. It also provides the first scientific evidence that a critical Alzheimer’s risk gene, APOE4, interacts with air particles to accelerate brain aging.

Where there’s smoke

Previous research at the University of Southern California has already established that air pollution accelerates the risk of having a heart attack. Based on this work, we established the AirPollBrain Group to examine whether and how exposure to fine particulate matter – known as PM2.5 because the particles measure 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter – impacts the aging brain.

Click to zoom.

We designed this study to answer three broad questions. First, we wanted to know whether older people living in locations with higher levels of outdoor PM2.5 have an increased risk for cognitive impairment, especially dementia. We also wanted to know whether people who carry the high-risk gene for Alzheimer’s disease, APOE4, are more sensitive to the damage potentially caused by long-term exposure to PM2.5 in the air.

Our third question was whether similar findings could be observed with controlled exposures to particles in mice modified to carry human Alzheimer’s disease genes. If we found similar effects in mice, it could shed light on possible mechanisms underlying what is happening in human brains.

We focused on older women and female mice because APOE4 confers a greater Alzheimer’s disease risk in women than in men.

Human subjects

For the human epidemiologic study component, we collaborated with investigators from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, or WHIMS, which followed a large group of older women nationwide, starting in the late 1990s when these women were 65 to 79 years old but did not have dementia or any significant cognitive impairment.

We combined EPA monitoring data and air quality simulations to build a mathematical model that allowed us to estimate the everyday outdoor PM2.5 level in various locations where these women lived from 1999 through 2010. Because the WHIMS followed its study participants very closely, we were able to gather detailed information on other factors that may affect an individual’s risk for dementia, such as smoking, exercise, body mass index, hormone therapy and other clinical risk factors like diabetes and heart disease. This allowed us to account for these other factors and better isolate the effects of air pollution exposure.

We found that women exposed to higher levels of PM2.5 had faster rates of cognitive decline and a higher risk of developing dementia. Older women living in places where PM2.5 levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard had an 81 percent greater risk of global cognitive decline and were 92 percent more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s. This environmental risk raised by long-term PM2.5 exposure was two to three times higher among older women with two copies of the APOE4 gene, compared with women who had only the background genetic risk with no APOE4 gene.

Nonattainment areas are not meeting the EPA standard. Areas designated unclassifiable do not have enough verified monitoring data to show they are meeting the standard, but are working with EPA to improve their data.

Mouse models

For the laboratory studies, we exposed female mice with Alzheimer genes to nano-sized air pollution for 15 weeks. The air particle collection technology, invented by our colleague Constantinos Sioutas from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, collects air particles from the edge of USC’s campus as a representative air sample from urban areas.

The experimental data showed that mice systematically exposed to this particulate matter accumulated larger deposits of proteins called beta-amyloid in their brains. In humans, beta-amyloid is considered as a pathological driver of neurodegeneration and is a major target of therapeutic interventions to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s or slow its progress. Similar to our epidemiologic observation in older women, these effects were stronger for APOE4 female mice, which are predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Future studies

Our future studies will look at whether these findings also apply to men, and whether any drugs under development may provide protection against air pollution exposure. More work is also needed to confirm a causal relationship and to understand how air pollution enters and harms the brain.

Brain aging from exposure to air pollution may start at development, so we also want to look at early life exposure to air pollution in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. We already know that obesity and diabetes are Alzheimer’s risk factors. We also know that children who live closer to freeways tend to be more obese, an effect that is compounded if adults in the household are smokers.

Based on existing mouse models, one would predict that developmental exposure to air pollution could increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This is an important piece of the scientific puzzle that we’d like to better understand.

Air pollution, public health and policies

Air pollution knows no borders. This gives our study global implications that should be taken seriously by policymakers and public health officials.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to develop National Ambient Air Quality Standards that provide an adequate margin of safety to protect sensitive populations, such as children and the elderly. In 2012 the EPA tightened the U.S. standard for PM2.5. Nonetheless, in 2015 nearly 24 million people lived in counties that still had unhealthful year-round levels of particle pollution, and over 41 million lived in counties that experienced short-term pollution spikes.

Recent studies have shown that the prevalence of dementia in the United States declined between 2000 and 2012. However, we don’t know whether this trend is connected to air pollution regulations, or if exposures to lower levels of PM2.5 in recent years still pose some degree of long-term threat to older Americans, especially those at risk for dementia.

If long-term PM2.5 exposure indeed increases the risk for dementia, this would imply that public health organizations are underestimating the already large disease burden and health care costs associated with air pollution. For instance, the World Health Organization’s latest assessment of the global burden of disease caused by PM2.5 does not include dementia. Air pollution levels are much higher in India, China and many other developing nations than U.S. levels.

The World Health Organization recommends reducing PM 2.5 to an annual average of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
Phoenix 7777/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Similarly, EPA has estimated that the Clean Air Act will provide almost US$2 trillion in benefits between 1990 and 2020, much of it from reduced deaths and illnesses. If there is a connection between particulate pollution and dementia, the Clean Air Act may be providing even larger benefits than EPA’s estimate.

The U.S. National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, which was mandated by legislation enacted in 2011, aims to prevent or effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. We believe any measures that undermine EPA’s operation or loosen clear air regulations will have unintended consequences that will make it challenging to meet this goal.

Caleb Finch, University Professor, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California and Jiu-Chiuan Chen, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New research shows traffic-related air pollution may lead to dementia in older women

Image: USC School of Gerontology

Scientists at the University of Southern California published research yesterday that shows that Particulate Matter air pollution from power plants and vehicles may greatly increase the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. Their work indicates that air pollution may be responsible for over 20 percent of dementia cases.  Their study was published in the Nature journal Translational Psychiatry.

Over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimers Disease, and it is estimated that almost 14 million people will be afflicted by 2050.  To learn more, see the video or references below.

The USC Research

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease, LA Times

Air pollution linked to Alzheimer’s disease, study says, Press Enterprise

Air pollution may lead to dementia in older women, USC School of Gerontology


Diesel exhaust linked to magnetic particles in our brains and Alzheimer’s Disease, Moving Forward Network

Air Pollution May Be The Cause Of Alzheimer’s Disease, Innotrendz

2016 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures, Alzheimers and Dementia Journal

Scientists say exercising in heavy air pollution is bad for your heart

A European study of 16,000 people found that air pollution impairs the function of blood vessels in the lungs, and that exercise could cause lung damage and heart failure. The lead scientist in the study, cardiologist Jean-Francois Argacha said: “Our main advice is to limit physical activities during heavy air pollution.”

 Despite numerous studies showing strong links between air pollution and cardiovascular disease, this study is the first to demonstrate the effects of air pollution on pulmonary vascular function.

Our main advice is to limit physical activities during heavy air pollution.

For more information, check out the press release from the European Society of Cardiology, or the two other linked articles, provided for background.

Air pollution impairs function of blood vessels in lungs, European Society of Cardiology

For background

Air Pollution and Heart Disease, Stroke, American Heart Association

How Air Pollution Contributes to Heart Disease, Physicians for Social Responsibility


How to reduce your exposure to diesel exhaust pollution and protect your health

Diesel exhaust is dangerous to your health.  It contains tiny carbon particles, each coated with 30 or more toxins.  Small particles can enter your bloodstream through your lungs, and carry toxins to organs throughout your body. The smallest particles can enter your brain.

Credit: Laura Marschke, Southwest Early College

Photo credit: Laura Marschke, Southwest Early College

The World Health Organization has declared that diesel exhaust causes cancer, and hundreds of scientific studies have linked it to numerous health problems in children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression, autism and autism spectrum disorder, birth defects, brain cancer, impulsivity and emotional problems, insulin resistance & diabetes, leukemia, low birth weight, lupus, lung damage and other respiratory problems, mental illness, obesity, preterm birth, and reduced intelligence.

Diesel exhaust has also been linked to anxiety, asthma, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cognitive decline, reduction in brain volume, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, dementia, cardiovascular diseases, and strokes, high blood pressure, premature death, respiratory disease, and suicide.

The people most at risk of diesel exhaust related illnesses are the more than 45 million people who live or work near ports, rail yards, or distribution centers, or within 150 meters of a major highway. A disproportionate percentage of that population are low-income and/or members of minority groups.

The EPA recently agreed to the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign request by the Moving Forward Network and colleagues that they form an interagency team to figure out how to reduce the amount of diesel exhaust pollution these millions of people are exposed to, but that will not happen overnight.

Until the government takes action to reduce these health risks, you should take whatever actions you can to protect yourself and your family!  There is a lot you can do, summarized below, with links for more information:

  • Pay attention to your city’s local Air Quality Index, which will let you know when your city’s air is dangerous and you should avoid outdoor activities. Learn more about this here. But be aware that the air in neighborhoods near pollution sources can be unhealthy even when air in the rest of the city is safe.

  • Always avoid exercising near high traffic areas or other highly polluted areas.  Get more information on that from the American Lung Association.

  • Whether you bike, drive, walk, or take public transit to work or play, try to avoid heavy highway or rail freight routes. Research shows that bicyclists can reduce their exposure by 20-30 percent by choosing less polluted routes. Get more details from Colorado State University.

  • Don’t drive a diesel powered vehicle if you can avoid it – especially an old or poorly maintained vehicle.

  • If you can, avoid living near freight routes, warehouse districts, ports, or rail yards.

  • If you must live in an area with unhealthy levels of air pollution, keep your indoor air clean, buy or build a HEPA filter, and close up your house when air pollution is the most dangerous. Check out this video to learn how to build one for about $25.

  • If you must be outside when particulate matter levels are unhealthy, consider wearing a surgical mask, especially if you are a member of a sensitive group. The New York Times has good information on how to choose one.

  • If you find yourself in your car in traffic with unsafe levels of air pollution, close your windows, and turn off your fan or outside air source.  The latest research on the effectiveness of this approach is here.

Do you have other ideas on how to protect yourself?  Please share them in comments here!

Reduce traffic-related air pollution to save children’s lives & lower the $56 billion annual cost of asthma

Physician, epidemiologist, and Dean of the Boston University School of Public Health Dr. Sandro Galea just wrote a fascinating opinion piece for Newsweek Magazine on health care, and used asthma as an example of how non-health sectors of the economy affect health.

He pointed out that asthma costs the U.S. over $56 billion annually, and that reducing traffic-related particulate matter and other air pollution would be the most effective way to reduce asthma.

How could this be done?  A few key facts show that it is doable.

Most traffic-related particulate matter air pollution is emitted by the roughly 3 million heavy-duty diesel freight trucks on our roads, which burn over 37 billion gallons of diesel fuel every year.

Given the $700 billion annual revenue of the trucking industry – over $230,000 per truck – all old trucks could readily be retired and replaced with modern low-emissions vehicles – if we had the political will.

And if as a nation, we decided the health of our children is worth the investment, we could ditch dirty diesel in just a few years.

One option is to transform our heavy duty truck fleet to all-electric.  Electric terminal and short haul trucks are readily available today (check out the OrangeEV and BMW trucks), and their range is being improved every year.  Another option is to replace trucks (and dirty diesel locomotives) with Hyperloop freight networks along existing routes, as proposed by Elon Musk.

Making the leap to long-haul electric trucks and/or hyperloop freight systems would not be easy or inexpensive, but it wouldn’t be as difficult as putting a man on the moon, and would improve the health and lives of tens of millions of people – adults as well as children.

Dr. Galea makes an interesting point that I hope becomes true, ‘A transportation industry that is aware of its consequences for asthma will consider emission controls to be within its remit, and it will work to reduce the environmental consequences of its products.’

Check out Dr. Galea’s excellent editorial below:

Obamacare Is Not Enough – Americans are unhealthy and to fix it we need to address the root causes, Newsweek Magazine


New research shows there is no safe level of diesel exhaust and why we need zero emissions now!

Graphic: Adapted from the NRDC Infographic: How Diesel Exhaust Hurts Your Health

In the American urban environment, diesel exhaust is a primary contributor to PM, and often the most potent, with as many as 30 toxins on each particle. Studies by researchers throughout the world have linked exposure to particulate matter (PM) and other components of diesel exhaust to cardiovascular disease.

Two recent studies have greatly improved our knowledge exactly how PM, NO2, and other components of air pollution harm your cardiovascular system, and how dangerous it is:

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), a decade-long study of 6,000 Americans, just published in The Lancet, is ground-breaking and concerning:

Dr. Robert Brook, a cardiologist with the University of Michigan Health System, said the findings of the new study “would be hard to overstate.” They mean that air pollution is not just a trigger of heart attacks or strokes over a few days in high-risk or sick people who would have had such episodes anyway, but it’s also a cause of harm over years…But the new evidence also shows that there’s no safe level of pollution, no exposure that doesn’t increase heart disease risk, he added. (Seattle Times)

A meta-analysis of 17 studies just published in the journal Hypertension shows that air pollution raises blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, and that even short-term exposure can be very dangerous.

People should limit their exposure on days with higher air pollution levels, especially for those with high blood pressure,” said epidemiologist Tao Liu, Ph.D., lead author of the study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. “Even very short-term exposure can aggravate their conditions.” (American Heart Association)

For more information, see the news or research articles below:

News Articles

Exposure to air pollutants linked to high blood pressure, American Heart Association

UW-led study pinpoints how air pollution harms your heart, Seattle Times

Scientists Just Discovered Exactly What Air Pollution Does To Your Arteries, Think Progress

Study shows how air pollution fosters heart disease, Newsbeat

Decade-long study shows how air pollution is killing you, ZME Science

Journal Articles

Air Pollution and Heart Disease, The Lancet

Associations of Short-Term and Long-Term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollutants With HypertensionA Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, Hypertension

New research adds more evidence that traffic-related air pollution causes heart disease

Photo: Diesel exhaust particles inside artery, Source: Dr. Mark R. Miller

Dozens of studies have found that living near highways is hazardous to your health,  and linked that risk to particulate matter.

A new study finds that living within 1500 feet of a major highway raises the risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and attributes the risk to ultrafine particulate matter.

“Most of the mortality, most of the economic impact (is) coming from cardiovascular disease,” he told Tufts Medicine in 2012. “It’s not primarily asthma or lung cancer.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that they cause 80,000 or 100,000 deaths a year in the United States, and maybe four million or more worldwide,” he added.


To learn more about the study, check out:

New evidence of the dangers of living near highways, Boston Globe

Living Near A Highway Is Terrible For Your Health. 1 In 10 Americans Do It, ThinkProgress


New study shows diesel exhaust air pollution lower than EPA standards damages children’s lungs

Research to be published this week shows that even low levels of particulate matter and black carbon air pollution, components of diesel exhaust, damages children’s lungs.

This Boston study shows that by age eight, children living within 100 meters of a major roadway have, on average, 6 percent lower lung function than children living 400 meters or more from the roadway – even at levels below EPA standards.

Experts believe that lung damage in young children may be irreversible.

The lead researcher of this study is Mary B. Rice, MD MPH, a pulmonary and critical care physician with a research focus on air pollution, climate change, and respiratory health at Harvard Medical School.

In an accompanying editorial, Cora S. Sack, MD, and Joel D. Kaufman, MD, MPH, of the University of Washington wrote, “These important findings are from a novel study combining modern modeling of exposures to air pollution with robust measurements of lung function, conducted in a community with pollutant levels now under EPA standards,”

We do not need to emit diesel exhaust pollution and damage children’s heath. There are cleaner alternatives. Please click the link below and sign our petition asking the EPA to protect workers and nearby residents by regulating ports, rail yards, and other freight facilities.

The study, “Lifetime Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Lung Function in Children,” will be published in the April 15 edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, a journal of the American Thoracic Society.  To learn more, watch for the next issue, or check out the press release below.

Even low levels of air pollution appear to affect a child’s lungs, American Thoracic Society

The Trump Administration Threatens NEPA

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditThe Trump Administration is attacking basic human rights, immigrants, science, women, the environment, low income communities of color. Some attacks are more public than others. We wanted to send you this update on how NEPA can be dismantled without Congressional approval through the administrative/rule making process. NEPA requires federal agencies to […]

Read More

Moving Forward Network Responds to Dangerous Implication of President’s SOTU Remarks

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                       CONTACT:  Ira Arlook, Fenton, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2018                […]

Read More

Industrial Lead Poisoning in Los Angeles: Anatomy of a Public Health Failure

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditDear MFN colleagues, Here is a link to a new article about “silos” in government agencies that exacerbated exposure of children, residents and workers to lead from the Exide battery recycling facility in southern California.  Authors are Jill Johnston, who now heads our community outreach and engagement program at the University […]

Read More

Senator Booker Announces The Environmental Justice Act of 2017

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditOn October 23rd U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was joined by local community leaders and advocates from across New Jersey and the nation in announcing a landmark bill that represents a major step toward eliminating environmental injustice. This Bill would strengthen protections for communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous communities. […]

Read More

Comite Civico Del Valle honored as a Clean Air Hero

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditMoving Forward Network member Comite Civico Del Valle is being honored with a Clean Air Heroes award today by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for their ground-breaking IVAN Air Monitoring Network, which consists of 40 community-based air quality monitors in selected locations across the Imperial Valley. The award will be accepted […]

Read More

Don't miss this excellent video on trucks, air pollution, and public health

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditThe California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC) just sent us a wonderful video, which includes appearances by leaders and volunteers from several MFN member organizations, including Ms. Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Humberto Lugo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Silvia Reyes of the Alliance for Children with Asthma, and […]

Read More

Leonardo DiCaprio joins forces with Comité Cívico Del Valle to expand Salton Sea air quality monitoring

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditTo my knowledge, no organization in the U.S. has achieved as much using citizen science as the Brawley, California community and environmental justice group Comité Cívico Del Valle. Comité Cívico, working with a network of academic, governmental, and other partners, has built a community-based air quality monitoring system consisting of 40 […]

Read More

Check out the outstanding speakers and sign up for the free Moving Forward Network international conference!

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditCome to the free 4th international conference of the Moving Forward Network conference in Carson CA, and network and learn with some of the top environmental justice organizers in the country, plus enjoy exciting and informative speeches by Hong Kong environmental leader Christine Loh, mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental […]

Read More