UCLA: Freeway Pollution Travels Farther Than Thought. How to Protect Yourself
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This study provides hard evidence to potential sellers (living near freeways and high traffic areas) with motivation to sell.
The study’s data is from many sources including the SCAQMD and the city of Los Angeles.
The article is featured in the December 30th edition of the LA Times written by TONY BARBOZA and Times staff writer Jon Schleuss.
I’ve synopsized the article for easier reading or you can click on the headline below to read the article in its entirety.
Freeway pollution travels farther
than we thought. Here's how to protect yourself
A UCLA atmospheric chemistry professor Susanne Paulsen (UCLA Dept. of Atmosphere and Oceanic Sciences) has spent years studying how invisible plumes of dirty air from car- and truck-choked roadways spread into surrounding neighborhoods — increasing residents’ risk of cancer, asthma, heart disease and other illnesses.
So when she bought a home in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in 2007, she made sure it was on a quiet street far from the 10 Freeway — well beyond the 500-foot zone where California air quality regulators say it’s unhealthful to put homes, schools and day cares.
But it wasn’t far enough.
In the late night and early morning, it turns out, traffic pollution drifts much farther than during the day & can extend a mile downwind from the freeway.
That discovery, made by Paulson and her colleagues, of is one example of new research revealing how much your exposure to harmful levels of vehicle pollution is affected by your specific surroundings.
It’s not only your distance from traffic, but other details such as wind patterns, freeway design, the time of day and the types of cars, trucks and buildings around you that determine the risk.
Such findings are prompting new advice from air quality officials and scientists on steps you can take to protect yourself.
Keep Your Distance from Freeways and Busy Roads
Southern California is experiencing a surge in home construction near freeways that is pushing more people into high-pollution zones.
But just because state and local officials are allowing new housing there doesn’t mean it is safe, health experts say.
When choosing a home, school or day care, aim for locations as far from the freeway as possible. Avoid sites within 500 feet — where California air quality regulators warn against building — or even 1,000 feet.
That’s where traffic pollution is generally highest, along with rates of asthma, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, reduced lung function, pre-term births and a growing list of other health problems.
See how far you live from the nearest freeway »
Also avoid living near major roads — those carrying more than 100,000 vehicles a day — which, according to air quality regulators, can pose health risks similar to freeways.
Use Filters, But Know Limitations
If you have a central heating, air-conditioning or ventilation system, install high-efficiency air filters.
They should be rated 13 or higher on the 16-point industry MERV scale (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) that measures how effectively they block tiny pollution particles and replace every 3 months.
But filters remove only some of the harmful ingredients in traffic pollution & they’re effective only when the AC is on & all doors/windows are closed.
Most will not remove toxic exhaust gases such as benzene and butadiene. to screen those out, you need more costly charcoal filters.
Also factor in the age of your building. Filters are less effective in older homes, which let in more pollutants, and work better in newer dwellings that seal off more outside air.
In Los Angeles or San Francisco, high-efficiency filters may already be required by city codes & the California Energy Commission is moving to require MERV 13 air filtration in all newly constructed homes in 2020.
But those rules do nothing to reduce pollution in existing homes, including those occupied by more than 1.2 million people in Southern California who already live within 500 feet of a freeway.
Don’t have central AC? Adding 1-2 stand-alone air-cleaning devices reduces particle pollution levels, so long as you keep them running 24/7.
But air cleaners are effective at lowering particle levels only in a single room, not an entire home. Just make sure the model you choose is certified by California regulators.
Find Physical Barriers
If you can’t avoid living near a freeway, some locations offer more protection than others.
It’s better to live behind a sound wall, especially one with thick trees and plants extending above it.
Such obstacles, though not designed to block vehicle emissions, can reduce pollution levels immediately downwind.
It’s also preferable to live near a freeway elevated above or sits well below a home. That vertical separation can help disperse pollutants.
Freeways where lanes sit at the same level as surrounding buildings, are worse because they put vehicle tailpipes right next to people’s lungs.
If you live on a major boulevard, you’re better off when there are buildings of varying heights, parks and other open spaces that allow exhaust pollutants to disperse up and away from traffic, state regulators say.
Avoid “street canyons,” blocks & blocks of tall buildings that trap pollution.
(click on the link and scroll down midway in the article for the graphic).
Avoid Early Morning Exercise Near Traffic
Postpone outdoor exercise to later in the morning to dodge the spike in traffic pollution in the pre-sunrise hours, when stagnant weather conditions, caused by nighttime cooling, trap freeway pollution near the ground.
This slows down the dispersal of emissions, allowing them to drift more than a mile downwind, compared to no more than 1,000 feet during the day.
Levels of ultrafine particles, nitric oxide & hydrocarbons are highest in the early morning, aided by a big injection of exhaust from morning rush hour.
Those conditions usually break up once the sun has been up for a few hours and winds pick up again.It’s also better to keep your windows closed in the early morning hours.
You may think it’s safer to leave them open after traffic dies down at night, but recent research suggests the opposite.
Drive Less, and Use the 'Recirculate' Button
Spending time in a car on the freeway can expose you to pollution levels five to 10 times higher than surrounding areas.
Even with the windows up, drivers breath up to 80% of the pollution found in traffic if the vehicle’s ventilation system draws in outside air. So if you can, live closer to work, use public transit or take steps to limit driving time.
“That’s where we still get a big, big share of our exposure, especially if you’re driving very far in rush-hour traffic,” said Scott Fruin, a professor of preventive medicine at USC.
When you’re in the car, roll up the windows and set your ventilation system to recirculate. That button can cut pollution to 20% of on-road levels.
Stay Away from Interchanges, Intersections and Other Hot Spots
The risk to your health can be compounded if you live near multiple pollution sources.
Avoid living close to highway interchanges and freeway ramps, which regulators and scientists have identified as hot spots that can hit residents with twice as much as pollution.
Keep away from major intersections and stoplights, where vehicles spit out a lot of exhaust when drivers step on the gas, and copper dust and other toxic particles when they hit the brakes.
Also factor in whether you live in a smoggy area. If you live near a freeway in a community with higher smog levels, you could get a double dose of dirty air from traffic emissions piling on top of regional pollution.
Avoid truck routes and the ‘diesel death zone’
(click too see graphic)
It’s really unhealthful to live near freeways & roads frequented by diesel trucks, which spew many times more harmful gases & particles than cars.
Diesel particulate matter, carcinogen-laden soot that deposits deep in the lungs, is responsible for the bulk of the cancer risk from air pollution and more than 1,000 early deaths a year in California.
Experts are most concerned about people living near ports, warehouse distribution centers and other freight corridors.
Asthma rates and cancer risk there can be so elevated that physicians have labeled it the “diesel death zone.”
An air-monitoring station next to a truck-congested stretch of the 60 Freeway in Ontario had the highest levels of fine-particle pollution, or soot, of all near-roadway sites in the nation, according to 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.
About 217,000 vehicles a day passed by in 2015, more than 29,000 of them trucks.
Be Aware of The Type of Vehicles In Your Neighborhood
The kinds of vehicles traversing your neighborhood can have a big effect on how much pollution you breathe.
Paulson and other scientists have detected huge disparities among L.A. neighborhoods, with some of the lowest levels of traffic pollution in wealthier enclaves such as West Los Angeles, where the roads have more new cars with cleaner engines, and fewer trucks.
Levels of ultrafine particles, the tiny, short-lived particles scientists measure as an indicator of recently emitted exhaust, are several times higher over in the Eastside neighborhood of Boyle Heights, which in addition to being carved up by a freeway interchange has more diesel trucks and older, higher-polluting cars on its surface streets.
Clean the Dust, But Worry More About the Pollution You Can't See
The black road dust that deposits on the windows, shelves and patios of people living near traffic? If it’s big enough to see, it probably can get into your mouth or nose, and not much farther than that.
Clean it up, especially if it’s dark or sooty in color, said Fruin, the USC professor. More important, soot can be an indication of traffic pollution you can’t see but may be breathing in.
Scientists are especially concerned about ultrafine particles, exhaust pollutants less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair.
They’re so tiny they can lodge deep in the lungs and move into bloodstream, where they may harm the heart, brain and other organs.
Ultrafine particles are suspected of causing some of the illnesses among people living near traffic, but more research is needed to say for certain.
Don't Count on Electric Cars to Eliminate the Problem
Cars and trucks keep getting cleaner, but don’t count on electric vehicles bringing an end to traffic-related health problems.
Switching to zero-emission vehicles only gets rid of tailpipe-generated pollution. It does nothing to reduce non-exhaust pollutants, including dust from brake pads and tires that contains toxic metals, rubber and other compounds that are kicked up into the air.
Scientists trying to pinpoint the most harmful agents in traffic pollution are just beginning to study the health effects of those non-tailpipe pollutants.
“The switch to electric vehicles will certainly reduce the public’s exposure to engine-related emissions,” said Ed Avol, a professor of preventive medicine at USC.“
But this kind of pollution is generated by the frictional forces of tires, brakes & from lubricating oils and is likely to remain for years to come.”
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