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One in Three US Public Schools in Proximity to Major Highways and Pollutants

University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers have found that more than 30% of American public schools are within 400 meters (0.25 mile) of major highways that consistently serve as main truck and traffic routes. Research has shown that proximity to such major highways—and thus environmental pollutants, such as aerosolizing diesel exhaust particles—can leave school-age children more susceptible to respiratory diseases later in life.

The UC-led team reports its findings in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. The authors believe this to be the first national study of school proximity and health risks associated with major roadways.

This is a major public health concern that should be given serious consideration in future urban development, transportation planning and environmental policies. 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. Existing schools should be retrofitted with air filtration systems that will reduce students’ exposure to traffic pollutants.

—Sergey Grinshpun, principal investigator and professor of environmental health at UC

To protect the health of young children with developing lungs, Grinshpun says new schools should be built further from major highways.

For this study, Grinshpun’s team conducted a survey of major metropolitan areas representative of all geographical regions of the United States: Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis and San Antonio. More than 8,800 schools representing 6 million students were included in the survey. Primary data was collected through the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Schools within this data set were then geocoded to accurately calculate distance to the nearest interstate, US highway or state highway.

Past research on highway-related air pollution exposure has focused on residences located close to major roads. Grinshpun points out, however, that school-age children spend more than 30% of their day on school grounds—in classrooms, after-school care or extracurricular activities.

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.

—Sergey Grinshpun

These past studies suggest this proximity to highway traffic puts school-age children at an increased risk for asthma and respiratory problems later in life from air pollutants and aeroallergens. This includes research from the UC Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study (CCAAPS) which has reported that exposure to traffic pollutants in close proximity to main roads has been associated with increased risk for asthma and other chronic respiratory problems during childhood.

Grinshpun’s team found that public school students were more likely to attend schools near major highways compared to the general population. Researchers say the rapid expansion of metropolitan areas in recent years—urban sprawl—seems to be associated with the consistent building of schools near highways.

Major roads play an important role in the economy, but we need to strike a balance between economic and health considerations as we break ground on new areas. Policymakers need to develop new effective strategies that would encourage urban planners to reconsider our current infrastructure, particularly when it comes to building new schools and maintaining existing ones.

—Alexandra Appatova, the study’s first author

The state of California has passed a law prohibiting the building of new schools within 500 feet (168 meters) of a busy road. New Jersey is moving a bill through the legislature to require highway entrance and exit ramps to be at least 1,000 feet from schools.

This study was funded in part by grants from UC’s Center for Sustainable Urban Engineering and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. UC’s Patrick Ryan, PhD, and Grace LeMasters, PhD, also participated in this study. Appatova was an intern in UC’s department of environmental health when the study was being conducted.


  • Alexandra S. Appatova, Patrick H. Ryan, Grace K. LeMasters, Sergey A. Grinshpun (2008) Proximal exposure of public schools and students to major roadways: a nationwide US survey. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Volume 51 Issue 5 2008 doi: 10.1080/09640560802208173



I think that 'nearby highway pollutant risk' will need to get in line behind the countless of other health and safety issues that affect schools (i.e. type-2 diabetes diet, bully violence, powerlines, condition of building and site, drugs and tobacco, etc.)
Though, it certainly is a heads up for planners.


Did you know that many European countries will not build schools close to highways, High Voltage power lines and Cell phone Tx Towers for the same reasons.

I don't know where you could build a school around LA.


I, for one, live way too close to a Benedictine monastery. No telling what effects the prayer radiation is having on my soul.

Such shocking news that there are dangers everywhere for our little ones to combat. Guess what? Not many are getting out of this life alive!

I know! Let's build schools inside non-volatile-chemical-leaching plastic bubbles!!! Yes! Finally! More regulations and laws from our governments! Arrest me! I'm drooling on myself without having filled out the proper form !! .............


it almost seems easier to just outlaw internal combustion engines -- can you imagine the difference of having only electric vehicles... i think we would choke ourselves on the lack of toxins...

Reality Czech

If you outlaw internal combustion engines, how will the Bush and al-Saud families maintain their lifestyles?


And we could use HVDC power lines to solve the HVAC power lines radiation problems.

Of course, ICE vehicles and dirty coal fired power plants are going out.

Fully digitized, minimum power, improved design cell phones and improved TX towers location and radiation pattern should solve most of the hazardous radiation problems associated with that technology.

It's not too late to correct many of our early mistakes.


Gee...would it matter if the study surveyed emissions before September 2006 (when ULSD 15ppm sulpher became law) or after?


poorly shielded motors, generators and electronics can emit dangerous levels of magnetic radiation in electric cars.. and even perhaps ozone!.. maybe someone needs to look into this.

stas peterson

Driving by the school I saw hundreds of bodies of "the lil childrun" dead in the gutter.

It's all a criminal conspiracy of the evil dust makers, stirring up and polluting the air. We should outlaw the Wind, pronto.

This message brought to you by the selfless group of perfectly believable, and saintly, people known as tort bar lawyers, aka Big Law. Let us sue every meteorologist in the world. They are guilty for the Wind. We need to stop the WIND from stirring up the dust, and cruelly killing all "the l'il childrun" !

For only a small fee of only everything we can legally steal...


Why only the other day my passenger was describing how the kids used to ride thier bikes across the enrichment tailings flats at Port Perie S.A.
Nowdays they test all children for lead.
Couldnt tell me what type of lead.
The same Co. ran the lead smelter.
They ran checks with a geiger counter some time back. Then demolished suburbs .
Only trouble is I'm not kidding.



I (and many other millions) heeded to similar arguments while I was smoking almost two packs a day.

Fortunately, I started to listen to health reports and stopped smoking (as many millions did). Most of my friends (and many other millions) who didn't died early from lung cancer.

Air pollution is one of the major cause of illness among children. Please check with your local hospitals and get the stats on prevailing illnesses and you may chage your mind. The Mayo Clinic site is another good medical information source.


This finding is easy to ridicule. And I am tempted too.

IMO Jer got is right. Endless reasons are constantly found for spending infinite amounts to prevent immense woes. Woes that may not exist.

Overall this an advocacy document. Urban planners should make more rules.

Contrary to the impression the authors wish to give the matter of vehicles, traffic, school siting, and pupils health has been studied. I recall work was done in the UK decades ago.

No doubt much other work has been done in the EU. Earlier, before lead was removed from gasoline its presence in school children was well studied in the US.

But it is no doubt true that no one has yet done a study JUST like theirs. Darn hard to disprove that.

The study may have been good training for those conducting it. But to what end? We aren't going to move ten thousand schools. Or is it a million? We aren't going to reroute thousands of miles of highways.

And phasing out the ICE and its fumes will only happen as alternatives become available. That will bring a 24/7 improvement in air quality.

Unless the circulation system in a given school is actually making matters worse there will be no advantage in retrofitting filters. More elaborate equipment might help at an especially polluted site.

Children spend perhaps 5 hours a day in school for 180 days. About 10% by my fast and unchecked arithmetic.

My vote would be to devote scarce funds to cleaning up the air for everyone day and night. And whether they are inside or outside, young or old.

Children's health is important. Yet my imagination fails to assign a high priority for the approach advocated here.

stas peterson

@ Harvey D,

Don't tell me you fell for that nonsense.

For a legitimate problem many including yours truly, ceased using tobacco; and hemp too.

But the most intolerant tobacco critics are known to puff on a rope and maintain that it is perfectly all right, even as they hack and wheeze...

Whatever rows your boat.

But the Life Expectency continues to climb, so we are doing something right. Despite their propaganda that the End of the World is Coming.

The air quality is markedly cleaner in the USA than it has ever been, even in the last polluted enviro-wacko enclaves, like LA and San Francisco. I do wish they would get on the ball and clean up, like the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, it not trendy anymore. They would rather blather on, how plant food, might be bad for plants, and the animals that eat them. Not now, but maybe in a couple hundred years or more, if we don't instantly revert to living in caves...

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