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1.2 Million Southern Californians Live Within The Pollution Zone Of A Freeway

(Photo by Joe Wolf via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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If you've driven on the northbound 5 past the Calzona Street exit, or passed any of Geoffrey Palmer's Khrushchyovka-style monstrosities along the 110/101 interchange, you know just how close L.A. builds its residences to freeways.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some 7,300 units were approved by the city in 2015 and 2016 for construction near the freeways. However, as various studies have shown, living within 1,000 feet of a freeway or busy road (with more than 100,000 cars passing a day) can create numerous adverse health effects, including low birth weight and hindered brain development for fetuses, small lungs and asthma among children, and heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer for adults. Yet, across Southern California, 1.2 million people live within the pollution zone of a freeway, and by 2035, the Southern California Association of Governments expects another 250,000 people to join.

“We were constantly sick,” Jeremiah Caleb, who lived with his wife Angel in a one-bedroom apartment on Beloit Avenue, mere yards away from the 405, told the Times. “We were desperate to leave, but we felt stuck. We just couldn't afford it.”

Anthony Moretti, chairman of pediatrics at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, added that children who live near freeways are more likely to end up at the hospital with respiratory problems.

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“These kids will come in four, five, six times over a six-month period, and clearly their environment is a factor,” he noted. "I feel for these families because they suffer an undue burden of illness simply because of where they live."

"European studies have shown increased respiratory health problems in children who live or go to school within 100 meters (~330 feet) of a busy roadway, with the greatest risks appearing in the first 50 meters (~165 feet)," a study by the UCLA Southern California Particle Center and Supersite reported. "Studies conducted by SCPCS investigators here in LA show that carbon monoxide and ultrafine particles - the smallest portion of particulate matter emissions and potentially the most toxic - are extremely high on or near the freeway, dropping to about half that concentration 50-90 meters (~165-295 feet) from the freeway. After about 300 meters (~990 feet) the concentration of particulate matter reaches the 'ambient' level - the normal level in the air without the influence of any nearby sources. In 2003 the California state legislature enacted a law that new schools must be built at least 500 feet from very busy roadways."

According to KPCC, “over 150 schools [statewide] are already estimated to be within 500 feet of extremely high traffic roadways." Additionally, in Los Angeles alone, some 169 child care centers (pre-schools and home daycares) are believed to be within the 500-foot range.

“Freeways are part of Los Angeles' fabric and prohibiting housing by them is unrealistic,” Carol Schatz, president of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said, according to the Times.

So, as the city debates building more residences and early childhood care centers near freeways, how best to protect yourself?

“Tree cover, foliage, fences, shrubbery, buildings, will all affect to some extent the flow patterns of air and in some ways provide a surface for the particles to adhere to and deposit on,” Ed Avol, a clinical professor at USC, notes.

And, if your budget allows, move more than 500 feet (though, preferably 1,000 feet) from freeways and busy streets.