Planes, trains, and automobiles isn’t just the name of a classic movie. It’s also a list of some of the major culprits in the emission of “near-source” air pollution in this country.
According to the EPA, approximately 45 million Americans live, work, or go to school within 300 feet of a major roadway, airport, or railroad. Even more people may be affected by the higher concentrations of air pollutants found around those places. Research has found that major roadways can have significant effects on air quality as far out as 600 feet.
In fact, elevated pollution levels can be found as far away as 2,000 feet from major roads. This also depends on the weather and terrain. That’s over 1/3 of a mile away.
Major roadways are defined by the EPA as highways with four lanes or more. Is your home or workplace located within 1/3 of a mile of a major four-lane road? What about your children’s school? Here in Huntsville many people live, work, or go to school that close to the Parkway, I-565, Highway 72, and other major roads.
Roadways that are heavily used, frequently congested, and/or have higher levels of trucking traffic can produce high levels of pollution. That’s particularly true during the rush hours in the morning and afternoon.
So, if you have a home, business, or other facility near a major roadway, it’s important to know how that roadway could affect your indoor air quality. You need to know what health effects that pollution can have. Here is what you can do to improve the quality of your indoor air.
What Pollutants Are Found Near Major Roadways?
There’s a wide variety of pollutants that are found in higher concentrations near major roadways. Some of these pollutants are directly emitted from the cars, trucks, and other vehicles on the road. Others are formed by chemical reactions between the emissions and outside factors.
Pollutants that are directly emitted from vehicles include carbon monoxide, particulate matter created by combustion, and volatile organic compounds. One such Compound is benzene. Heavy-duty diesel vehicles, such as semi-trucks, emit the most dangerous particulate matter. Lighter vehicles contribute more VOCs and carbon monoxide.
As for pollutants created by chemical reactions, these include ozone and NO2. Ozone is formed when vehicle emissions react with sunlight. This is why sunny summer weather can lead to high-ozone warnings.
Another type of pollutant found in high concentrations near roadways is particulate matter such as road dust and debris from tire wear. Any particulate matter that’s 10 microns or smaller can be inhaled and affect the respiratory system.
See Also: Why Do I Need an Air Purifier?
What are the Dangers of Near-Roadway Pollution?
According to the EPA, research has shown that living or working near a major roadway is associated with higher rates of health problems associated with air pollution.
The health issues include cardiovascular disease and reduced lung function. Also this can increase the development of asthma and the worsening of asthma symptoms.
Near-roadway air pollution is particularly hazardous for infants and children. Proximity to major roadways is also associated with increased incidences of childhood leukemia. It can also impaired lung development in children.
Because of the pollution’s effects on development, it’s associated with increases in premature birth and low-birthweight. Impacts on infants and children are especially concerning. According to the EPA, approximately 17,000 schools in the U.S. are located near major roadways.
Other groups that are particularly at risk from near-roadway pollution include seniors, people with pre-existing heart and lung conditions or asthma. In addition to the ailments already listed, proximity to major roads is generally associated with a higher risk for premature death.
See Also: Air Conditioning and Your Health
How Can You Improve the Quality of Your Indoor Air?
The EPA, city planners, and transportation engineers can take many steps to reduce the impact of pollution on the communities around them. These include increasing emissions standards, planting vegetation, putting up sound walls, and other measures.
But what can you do to improve the quality of the air in your home or other building? Putting up vegetation or other solid barriers is an option in some places.
If your building has a ventilation system, it should be designed to take in air as far away from the major road as possible. And if you’re near a major roadway, you should keep your windows closed as much as possible. This is especially important during the times of day with the most traffic.
Another important measure for improving the quality of indoor air is the use of filtration and air cleaners. Electrostatic filtration systems can remove particulate matter from the air. It’s important to get a system that can remove fine particle pollution 2.5 microns or smaller. This is because it’s the most dangerous for your heart and lungs.
Other kinds of air cleaners can reduce gases such as benzene and other volatile organic compounds. These filtration and air cleaner systems are designed to work with your HVAC without restricting the airflow too much, like some high-MERV intake air filters can.