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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Near-highway pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust: A review of epidemiologic evidence of cardiac and pulmonary health risks

Doug Brugge1*, John L Durant2 and Christine Rioux3

Author Affiliations

1 Tufts Community Research Center, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

2 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA

3 Interdisciplinary PhD Program, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA

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Environmental Health 2007, 6:23  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-6-23

Published: 9 August 2007

Abstract

There is growing evidence of a distinct set of freshly-emitted air pollutants downwind from major highways, motorways, and freeways that include elevated levels of ultrafine particulates (UFP), black carbon (BC), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO). People living or otherwise spending substantial time within about 200 m of highways are exposed to these pollutants more so than persons living at a greater distance, even compared to living on busy urban streets. Evidence of the health hazards of these pollutants arises from studies that assess proximity to highways, actual exposure to the pollutants, or both. Taken as a whole, the health studies show elevated risk for development of asthma and reduced lung function in children who live near major highways. Studies of particulate matter (PM) that show associations with cardiac and pulmonary mortality also appear to indicate increasing risk as smaller geographic areas are studied, suggesting localized sources that likely include major highways. Although less work has tested the association between lung cancer and highways, the existing studies suggest an association as well. While the evidence is substantial for a link between near-highway exposures and adverse health outcomes, considerable work remains to understand the exact nature and magnitude of the risks.