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Too close for comfort? Living Near Major Roads May Impact Your Health

EPA researchers and partners are studying the local health effects associated with roadways and other "near-source" air pollutants.

View from above of highway on and off ramps.

Noisy car and truck traffic may not be the only problem for those living next to a major road. Being close to the road may also cause health problems, especially for children and the elderly.

A recent EPA-funded study ("Residential Proximity to Major Roadway and 10-Year All-Cause Mortality After Myocardial Infarction" Exit EPA Disclaimer Circulation. May 7, 2012) conducted by researchers at EPA's Clean Air Research Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Exit EPA Disclaimer found that heart attack survivors who live less than 100 meters (328 feet) from a major road have a 27 percent increased risk of dying over 10 years than those living at least 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) away. The study is another addition to an emerging body of science showing that people who live, work, or attend school near major roads are at increased risk of health problems related to roadway air pollution.

Other health effects associated with near roadway exposures include asthma, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, pre-term birth, premature death, reduced lung function, and impaired lung development in children. EPA scientists are investigating the health impacts, types, and amounts of air pollutants emitted along major roads and other 'near source' air pollution sites, such as airports, rail yards, and ports.

"In order to protect public health, we need to study near the sources of air pollution so that we can provide solutions for reducing or minimizing exposure and potential health impacts," says Dan Costa, the national program director for EPA's Air, Climate, and Energy research program.

Results of the work provide important information to urban and transportation planners and state air quality managers working to reduce pollutant levels and protect public health. For example, the near-roadway research contributed to the development of the School Siting Guidelines, an EPA publication produced, in part, to help school districts evaluate potential environmental hazards when picking locations for new schools.

The near-source research engages scientists and engineers from a diversity of disciplines and includes many partners.

Other examples of near-source research include:

Along the Road

Car traffic on a highway.

Along the Port

Large ship at a port.
  • EPA researchers are conducting a long-term air monitoring study to assess impacts from emission improvements at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The port is the third largest (by tonnage) in the country and the busiest on the East Coast.
  • EPA scientists are studying how expansions to the Panama Canal—expected to spark an accompanying increase in oceanic trading and ports—may lead to rises in air pollution along the Gulf Coast and East Coast of the U.S.

Along the Tracks

Train cars on tracks at a rail yard.
  • EPA recently finished a major rail yard study located near Chicago and is analyzing the data collected. A second rail yard study is planned for Atlanta (expected to begin in mid-2012).

Learn More

EPA Air Research

EPA Near Roadway Research

EPA Clean Air Research Centers

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