Thursday, July 29, 2004

Auto pollution increases health risks

Sierra Club report compiles findings of 27 studies

By Dan Klepal
Enquirer staff writer

Pollution from automobile tailpipes increases the risk of asthma, lung cancer, leukemia and other ailments, particularly in people who live near busy roads such as interstate highways.

That's the conclusion of a Sierra Club report, "Highway Health Hazards" that was released Wednesday.

The report compiles the findings of 27 scientific, peer-reviewed studies on the effects of automobile emissions, which include soot, small bits of unburned metals known as particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and benzene.

Many of the studies in the report say that young and old people are particularly susceptible to heath impacts from automobile exhaust.

Greater Cincinnati, which fails to meet tough new air quality standards for ozone and soot being established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has 409,000 children under age 14 and 222,000 adults 65 and older, according to the American Lung Association.

Glen Brand, Midwest representative for the Sierra Club, said the report is particularly important for people in this region because of the heavy truck and automobile traffic around downtown Cincinnati. Brand said human health effects of tailpipe pollution should be more closely considered when developing transportation plans.

"Widening highways exposes people to very serious impacts, and we need to study that so we're aware of the full impact of these expensive proposals," Brand said. "And we need better transportation solutions - public train service and clean-running buses - over self-defeating highway widening.

"The sooner we provide more transportation choices, the safer our families will be."

Mark Policinski, executive director of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), which has proposed a widening of Interstate 75 to allay congestion, said his organization did consider pollution before writing its transportation proposals that will guide the region through 2030.

Policinski said his organization pushed for a billion-dollar light rail system that was defeated by voters in 2002. Now, light rail can't be part of OKI's long-range plan, he said, or the region risks losing federal highway dollars.

"When we look at adding anything to our (transportation) plan, it must be in conformity with air quality standards or the plan doesn't work," Policinski said. "We propose widening I-75 because there's no other way to reduce congestion. We have to move traffic, instead of having it sit there and pollute."

Key findings from the scientific studies include:

• A Journal of American Medical Association study linking soot and fine particulate matter to lung cancer, cardiopulmonary disease and other causes of death.

• A Journal of Air and Waste Management Association study found children living within 250 yards of streets or highways with 20,000 vehicles per day are six times more likely to develop all types of cancer and eight times more likely to get leukemia.

• A UCLA study published in Environmental Health Perspectives journal found a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in the risk of premature birth and low birth weight for infants born to women living near high traffic areas in Los Angeles County.

Dr. Tim Buckley, one of the authors of the report, criticized the Bush administration for its proposal that would cut support for public transportation by 30 percent, while keeping highway funding the same. Buckley, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the federal government should view public transportation options the same as funding for highway expansions.

"The Bush administration is taking us in the wrong direction," Buckley said.


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