Air Pollution Concerns for School Children on the Rise

Children who are in such close proximity to such highways, which produce environmental pollutants, can be more susceptible to respiratory diseases such as asthma later in life.

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the air pollution concerns for Olympic athletes and spectators in Beijing, China. However, the United States is not without its own air pollution problems. In fact, according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati, more than 30% of US public schools are within a quarter mile of major highways that serve as main truck and traffic routes. Other research studies have shown that children who are in such close proximity to such highways, which produce environmental pollutants, can be more susceptible to respiratory diseases such as asthma later in life. Sergey Grinshpun, PhD, principal investigator of the study and professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, has recommended that future urban development, transportation planning, and environmental policies be given careful consideration in terms of proximity to high levels of pollution. “Health risk can be mitigated through proper urban planning, but that doesn’t erase the immediate risk to school-age children attending schools that are too close to highways right now,” said Grinshpun. “Existing schools should be retrofitted with air filtration systems that will reduce students’ exposure to traffic pollutants.”

The study, which will appear in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, included “metropolitan areas representative of all geographical regions of the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and San Antonio.” The survey took more than 8,800 schools representing six million students into account, and calculated the distance to the nearest interstate, US highway, or state highway.

Grinshpun points out that, although major roads play an important role in the economy, there needs to be a fair balance between economic and health considerations. States like California—which has passed a law that prohibits erecting new schools within 500 feeet of a busy road—and New Jersey—which is currently moving a bill through legislature to require highway entrance and exit ramps to be 1,000 feet from any school—are ahead of the curve.

“For many years, our focus has been on homes when it comes to air pollution. School attendance may result in a large dose of inhaled traffic pollutants that—until now—have been completely overlooked,” Grinshpun said.