Published on May 16th, 2017 | by Andrea Bertoli
Health Dangers of Living Near Roads and Highways
Busy streets and highways are a way of life for millions of people on our planet. Whether we’re zooming to work, to pick up the kids, or simply stuck in traffic, being in the car and on the road is seen as part of our daily life. But there are a myriad of health dangers of living near roads.
The Dangers of Traffic Pollution
But our dependance on roads and cars and busses and highways has exacted a big toll on our bodies. The American Lung Association says that the amount of Americans living on or near busy highways is about 30-45% of the urban population. Their research from 2010 showed that traffic pollution causes “asthma attacks in children, and may cause a wide range of other effects including: the onset of childhood asthma, impaired lung function, premature death and death from cardiovascular diseases, and cardiovascular morbidity.”
As if this wasn’t bad enough, in early 2017 research came out showing that those living near-high traffic roads have increased rates of dementia, too. The study from Public Health Ontario looked at almost 7 million residents, and found that those that living within 50 meters of a major road were 7-12% more likely to develop dementia.
As Julia Lurie writes on Mother Jones, “This isn’t the first study to suggest that air pollution can change the brain [although] scientists are still pinpointing exactly how air pollution changes the brain.” Some of the answer might be heavy metal contamination, some might be particulate matter which leads to inflammation and potential cognitive decline over time.
Exposure to heavy metals, like lead, can be one of the reasons for showing cognitive decline that could lead to dementia. These heavy metals bioaccumulate in the body, and can lead to toxic levels. And to some extent this can be reversed with chelation therapy. A quick search of chelation therapies include a host of non-reputable sources (looking at you, Goop), but I have read anecdotal evidence about it helping to reverse autism and other cognitive issues, including Alzheimers.
Why Air Pollution is a Global Concern
Sure, the traffic near roads is bad, but really air pollution is a concern for all of us. Globally, air pollution deaths account for 5.5 million deaths each year, and 92% of the world’s population is living with dangerous air pollution levels.
As I wrote on CleanTechnica a few months ago, “UNICEF found that about 2 billion children across the world are exposed to air pollution at levels the World Health Organization (WHO) considers ‘a long term hazard,’ while 300 million children “breathe air pollution at ‘toxic’ levels — or six times higher than international limits.”
How to Reduce your Exposure to Air Pollution
Globally we need to shift our habits that lead to air pollution, like reliance on fossil fuel vehicles. But since that’s likely going be a slow process (well, the EV revolution is happening, but it’s not immediate!) involving citizens, governments, and business, in the meantime we can take steps to reduce exposure to air pollution.
Plants are a surprisingly great way to help reduce indoor air pollution. Not only do they beautify the space in your home, they help clean the air every day. We’ve written extensively on which plants are best for reducing indoor air pollution (with a handy identification guide), including a list of perennial plants that clean indoor air.
In addition to plant, indoor air filters or ‘air cleaning devices’ can ‘scrub’ the air of pollution can be really helpful. The Environmental Protection Agency has a very detailed explanation about what types of pollutants can be removed and the best cleaners to remove them.