According to new research by UCLA atmospheric chemistry professor Suzanne Paulson and her colleagues, traffic pollution drifts much farther during late night and early morning than during the day, and can extend more than a mile downwind from the freeway. Paulson has spent years studying how traffic pollution can spread into surrounding neighborhoods and how it increases residents’ risk of cancer, asthma, heart disease and other illnesses. California air quality regulators claim that it’s unhealthful to put homes, schools and day cares within 500 feet of a freeway, but the new research by Paulson and her colleagues shows that the 500-foot zone may need to be reevaluated. It turns that not only does your distance from traffic matter, but other things such as wind patterns, freeway design, the time of day and the types of vehicles, and buildings around you determine the risk of pollution from freeways. Paulson states,

We’re learning that the pollution you breathe comes down to where you are, when you’re there and what the traffic is like.

When choosing a home, school or day care, it’s best to avoid sites within 500 feet of a freeway, where California air quality regulators warn against building, or even within 1,000 feet to further decrease health risks associated with traffic pollution. Traffic pollution is generally highest within 1,000 feet of a freeway, along with rates of asthma, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, reduced lung function, pre-term births and a other health problems, according to the new research. For people that live within 1,000 feet or less to a freeway, the Los Angeles Times recommends getting high-efficiency air filters that are rated 13 or higher on the 16-point industry MERV scale (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) that measures how effectively they block tiny pollution particles. It’s also recommended that people postpone exercising outdoors until later in the morning to avoid the spike in traffic pollution in the pre-sunrise hours, which is when stagnant weather conditions, caused by nighttime cooling, trap freeway pollution near the ground. This new research on traffic pollution is very interesting and important for people to know about to avoid health risks associated with traffic pollution.

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