Highway Air Pollution: How To Breathe Healthy Air When You Live Near Busy Roadways

Highway Air Pollution: Effects of Cars on Air Pollution

Increasing evidence shows that air pollution levels along busy highways are of major concern for the people who live or work near the heavily trafficked areas.   

Roughly 30 to 45 percent of the North American urban population is being exposed to the harmful effects of living next to a busy road. And while children and teenagers are most vulnerable, they are not the only ones at risk. According to a study by the Health Effects Institute, long-term exposure to traffic air pollution to those that live or work within 300-500 meters from the highway can result in an increased risk of any of the following:

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Premature death
  • Decreased lung function
  • Dementia
  • Poor overall cognition
  • Asthma attacks in children
  • Death from cardiovascular morbidity

Overcoming Highway Air Pollution

There are environmental benefits to urban density. Living close to a transportation hub, for example, reduces the number of cars on the road.

Current best-practice mitigation measures to reduce air pollution exposure, such as better air filtration systems and vegetation barriers, are also making a difference.

But the consensus is clear, the farther out you live or work from the high-volume roads, the greater the health benefits.

There are measures you can take to protect your respiratory health if moving is not an option, starting with monitoring the air quality by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency website airnow.gov.

When air quality is low, follow these tips.

Tips from an Air Quality Official

  • Try to avoid rush hour on your commute to work if possible by taking back roads or going through a park if you need to walk
  • Keep your home clean by using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, a wet mop on floors, and never dry dusting. Bare floors are much safer because they don’t hold on to dirt and dust like carpets do
  • Don’t smoke, burn candles, or use a fireplace
  • Never wear your shoes in the house and change clothes when you get home for the day
  • Keep windows closed
  • Remain indoors as much as possible in a building with air filtration (home, office, etc.)
  • Install air filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13 in your HVAC system for the cleanest air possible without decreasing efficiency



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