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Exposure to Traffic Pollution Can Stunt Childrens’ Lung Development

Children who live near a major highway are not only more likely to develop asthma or other respiratory diseases, but their lung development may also be stunted, according to a study by the University of Southern California.

In a study that will appear in the 17 Feb issue of The Lancet, researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC found that children who lived within 500 meters (0.31 miles) of a freeway since age 10 had substantial deficits in lung function by the age of 18 years, compared to children living at least 1,500 meters (0.93 mile) away.

Otherwise-healthy children who were non-asthmatic and non-smokers also experienced a significant decrease in lung function from traffic pollution. This suggests that all children, not just susceptible subgroups, are potentially affected by traffic exposure.

Someone suffering a pollution-related deficit in lung function as a child will probably have less than healthy lungs all of his or her life. And poor lung function in later adult life is known to be a major risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

—W. James Gauderman, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine

The report draws upon data from the Children’s Health Study, a longitudinal document of respiratory health among children in 12 Southern California communities. More than 3,600 children around the age of 10 were evaluated over a period of eight years, through high school graduation. Lung function tests were taken during annual school visits, and the study team determined how far each child lived from freeways and other major roads.

Lung function was assessed by measuring how much air a person can exhale after taking a deep breath and how quickly that air can be exhaled. Children’s lung function develops rapidly during adolescence until they reach their late teens or early 20s. A deficit in lung development during childhood is likely to translate into reduced function for the remainder of life.

Previous studies have demonstrated links between lung function growth and regional air quality. The findings in this study add to that result, demonstrating that both regional air pollution and local exposure to traffic pollution affect lung development.

This study provides further proof that regional air quality regulations may need to be adjusted based on local factors, including traffic volume. This is important because in areas where the population continues to grow, more and more children are living or attending school near busy roadways. This may be harmful in the long run.

—James Gauderman

Gauderman added that community leaders, school districts and developers should consider these results when developing new schools or homes.

The Southern California study sites included the cities of Alpine, Anaheim, Glendora, Lake Arrowhead, Lake Elsinore, Long Beach, Mira Loma, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Dimas, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Upland.

Funding for this study came from the California Air Resources Board, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Hastings Foundation.




This result suggests that childrens lungs are being injured by something that does not diffuse rapidly from the source road or freeway. i.e. there is not a rapid large scale mixing occuring. It would be useful to have some pollution monitoring with a fine enough spatial resolution to correlate with the epidemiology. I grew up in the study area, 0.25 miles from I-10, and by age 19 had lost 25% of my expiratory capacity. It continued to decline in my adult years, although has now stabilized at about 60% below normal under inhaled steroid therapy. So from my perspective, it's true- ozone and particulates are bad for you, and the injury doesn't get better.


The same sort of effect used to exist near heavy traffic rail lines. Thus the wrong side of the tracks..

Often the wrong side of town is built on the downwind side of major roadstoo...


i'm 60 years old, grew-up a half a block away from route 66 in st. louis.
in our neighborhood all the homes were built with a concrete ash pit in the back yards, so that if the home-owner wished they could burn all their own trash. all the homes were heated with coal. we always burned all of our fall leaves.
based on current air standards, myself and all my friends that i grew up with, should be dead, and we're not.......

1 of my parents was and still is a smoker....

i guess all of this stuff will kill you but not very reliably........

remember the soap advertisements regarding how their soap would remove "ring around the collar"..... where i grew up you could have ring around the collar by noon.

bc of the air quality that most humans can/have tolerated, tells me that the second hand smoke people are idiots as well as this left coast study.

Bill Young


Congratulations on surviving. You are, however, a data point, not a data base.



Issue of air pollution was twisted to the degree of BS by popular media, as your real-life observations clearly confirm.

Generally speaking, air pollution has two different implications:

Common exposure to air pollution causes decrease of lung breezing capacity, increase in respiratory diseases (including asthma), and hell of other not life-treating implications.

It is also increases PROBABILITY of grave diseases, like lung cancer or hart attack. It does not mean that everybody will experience it (before they die from other causes), but multiplied by 300 millions of US population – your get the picture.

All in all, air pollution makes SOME of us die couple of years earlier, and makes ALL of us to use more sick days.

Kind of justification for me to make our air cleaner.


rant over,

i've got a 15 year old son, i don't want him or anyone to have to breath the crappy air i did as a child.

and while i was only 100 yards from route 66,
rt 66 was only 4 lanes at that time...almost no one except buses drove the inside lane bc they were boarded with curbs.

66 was nothing, compared to an 8 lane divided bumper to bumper traffic highway that we have in some places today.

believe it or not, i want cleaner air. and i want energy self-sufficiency. however the pendulum has swung to an extreme in some cases.
i support all forms of renewable power and energy.

Rafael Seidl

George -

the study was based on date from Southern California, whose peculiar topography tends to aggravate air quality problems. East LA and Riverside are notorious. This is because both NOx and PM tend to remain close to their points of emission unless there is sufficient wind and thermals to transport them away.

With studies such as these, it is important to eliminate confounding variables such as children's level of physical activity and how many of them play brass instruments, compared to the control group. Stunted growth is, after all, assessed relative to a baseline. Perhaps someone with a medical background could check to see if these and other confounding variables were properly looked at.

Technologically, traffic-related air pollutants can be reduced at source in multiple ways:

- provide incentives for the purchase of hybrid electric passenger cars (done), including those with just idle stop. In traffic jam conditions, the temperature of a three-way catalyst can fall below its light-off temperature, rendering it ineffective.

- eliminate sulphur from the fuel (done, ULSD)

- require low NOx and PM emissions of new HDVs (done, being phased in from 2007-2010)

- consider adding overhead electric lines on selected freeway routes so specially adapted buses and HDVs can switch to grid-connected all-electric mode (expensive, may be rendered obsolete by innovations in battery technology)

- provide incentives for DPF retrofits for both on-road and non-road legacy diesel engines (done, but hard to execute on)

- seek ways to reduce commute distances, especially for low-to-middle income earners (e.g. mandatory low-income housing in otherwise high-rent areas, increased dwelling density in residential areas)

- increase the average flow rate of traffic by reducing the number of vehicles on the road during rush hour (e.g. congestion charges, efficient public transport with service malls at hub stations)


One ofmy friends had to deal with this a few years back. I told him the best thing to do if you cant move is encourage your kid and yourself for that matter to stay indoors with a POWERFU;setof air cleaners running. Encourage your kids to play games and stay in thier room specialy when the wind is blowing fron the freeway. And more importantly take vacations in the muntains to force your childs lungs to increase cap. Going to 1 mile up realy forces the lungs to grow. EVEN if not done all that often. Also taking road trips through the mountains say to see the redwoods or the seirras or whatever is anouther good idea.

Also swinning specialy snorkling or anything where lungs are stressed and forced to work harder and increase cap is also great.

Sports however is BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD. As it makes them breath alot more of the gunk.


I lived 200 feet from the 101 freeway in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970's. Some days the smog was so bad I couldn't see the hills a mile or two away.
I am just another data point and also not a database, but since I developed severe allergies and had asmatic symptoms in the last 5 years, I always questioned and suspected that the bad air days were a significant source of the problem.
Finally there is some scientific data to support this problem so that others won't have to go through what I did.


My parents knew way back in the early 70s not to raise children near a freeway. Mind you they were scientists. But still it wa common sense back then that the air around feeways and many other places was unhealthy and thus best left to the poor...cough... In fact in some cases I am very sure they planned poor housing and schools right next to such places on purpose.

I know where I used to live the high class high school was in a very healthy clean air area with trees and lots of space. The poor school was just a few hundred feet from a major freeway and was right next to a main street AND was downwind of a factory. My friends from there never looked healthy ever.


Such things wouldn't have to be planned; everyone with money would buy up housing farther away, leaving the undesirable areas (next to freeways, chemical plants, ethanol distilleries...) to whoever is willing to use it.  Poor people build and live where they can afford it.  The result follows as night follows day.

Even if you sited landfills and chemical plants among the wealthy, the monied would just move to re-establish environs acceptable to them.  Those with less money would have to have lower standards.  The only way around this is to eliminate the problem for everyone.

Roger Pham

On a more positive note, the air pollution levels in cities have been a lot lower than in the 50's and 60's. Cars of that era have huge carbureted engines with very poor combustion and poor fuel mileage in the low teens, and they spewed out toxic lead into the urban environment. Exhaust from pre-emission control vehicles were very offensive to the olfactory sense (smelled baaad!!)

With new cars, the exhaust have been a lot cleaner. The problem is due to older cars with impaired exhaust emission treatment system, vans and light trucks with less stringent emission standard, and HDV diesel vehicles with PM emission problem.

The long-term solution would be to shift away from carbon-based fuel, and the shift will eventually be inevitable with dwindling of petroleum supply and with continual advancement in H2 technologies and mobile electrical storage technologies. Let's hope that the shift will come sooner rather than later!


Well in reuth it was a combo ofboth. I know for sure they cited some schools forpoor people in VERY bad spots to as they put it keep them weak. I know this mainly because I was standing there when they talked about such things.ts amazing what people say when they feel safe to say anything.


I supposed I should add some details. I was a platinum nlpnde white boy and this was the early 70s. The school was having a big shindig and I and many other white kids gotforcibly invited into a rather bizzare party. I think it was to prove to the fat cat that yes this school did have alot of white kids... I mostly remember the cake and the real fountain soda.. Nver have seen a 12 layer cake since then.

Anyway I was tiny and cute and ignored save to be the white kid we are schooling.... And they talked on and on about off things.

Only alot later did I realize what it had been about, And no by now they are all dead;/ They weremostly all old as hell even then.

Lets suffuce it to say it ws a very 50s and 60sslice of rich vs poor.

Lee Dekker

It's not that complicated or controversial. Is it enjoyable to get a big puff of diesel exhaust in-your-face? How many people have killed themselves, both deliberately and accidentally, by being in a closed garage with an idling vehicle?

These examples are much more obvious and much more immediate than something like global warming, which can never really be proven. But we and our parents have grown up with what is and appear to have great difficulty imagining a different way of doing things. That goes for most of us (lost souls) on the left coast as well.

Harvey D.


Yes, everybody (the rich, poor, young, old, visible minorities, immigrants, Africa, Asia, etc) should have equal right to clean air and clean running water.

We've got a very long way to go, even in the 8 top countries.

bill borsheim

When I was 5 years old back in 1954, I saw the cars travel with puffs of smoke coming out the exhaust. No one said anything because the exhausts disappeared from sight. Even at that young age, I knew the invisible exhaust was still in the air. I also knew cars weren't just near me but all over the country & much more densely packed in some areas. Yeah, & I observed a lot that other people chose not to see.

kent beuchert

I'm fairly certain that the original text of the
study report mentioned it, but this articledoes not - what exactly was th effect they found? SSaying that lungs were "affected" doesn't tell me enough to even react to the study. The media is especially derelict in publishing claims of significant medical findings that turn out to only be statistically significant. With a large sample size, one can call virtually every tivial effect statistically significant. The media is usually not qualified to report results of a scientific study - the fact that this report told me absolutely nothing about the degree of the observed effects proves to me,
once again, that the media cannot be depended upon as a reliable source of scientific results. As someone who has spent his life in various fields of science, this article is simply unacceptably vague and lacking in critical details.

kent beuchert

Aside from my displeasure that the article didn't
contain anything concerning the degree of impariment (the effect), there are potentially many other things that could be fatally wrong with this study. Like all naturalistic experiments, which this is oneof, there is the fact that one cannever show causal links because all
indepdendent variables are not being controlled. For example, it is highly unlikely that the only thing that differs in the environmet as one moves futher away from main highways is the concentration of exhaust fumes. I
can think of about five things right off the bat that certainly would differ, starting wih the socio-economic
level of the children, which in turn will have a strong correlation with the state of the interior air in the domiciles for several reasons, one of which would be smoking versus non-smoking. Hopefully the researchers weren't so sloppy that they didn't control for this, but
there's nothing to indicate that they did.


10000 sceinists and a room full of geniuses is no match for cmmon sense.

If a place doesnt feel healthy it very likely idnt and no freeway on earth ever felt healthy to be near.


Agree with wintermane. I figured it all out when I was 5 years old in 1954. Taking a break from playing in the front yard, I'd look at the car exhausts as they swirled & disappeared. I knew they were still there in the air & I knew they were bad...just had to breath near a running ICE engine to figure that out. But I figured adults were taking care of the problem. Grew up & discovered adults weren't doing anything. Matter of fact, even today, adults are in denile of pollution of ICE...especially to poor children stuffed in homes glued to major highways.

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