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Separating People from Pollution: Individual and Community Interventions to Mitigate Health Effects of Air Pollutants

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
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Separating People from Pollution Individual and Community Interventions to Mitigate Health Effects of Air Pollutants Efforts to minimize people’s exposure to air pollution historically have focused on curbing emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks. But increases in vehicle-kilometers traveled—that is, more cars spending more time on the road—have tempered that effect. Moreover, residential areas, hospitals, and schools often are built adjacent to main traffic arteries, where emissions are highest. An international group of public health researchers now says it’s time to start separating people from sources of air pollution as a means of protecting public health [EHP 119(1):29– 36; Giles et al.]. Air pollution can cause myriad cardio- vascular and respiratory problems includ- ing asthma, bronchitis, and heart disease. Outdoor air pollutants can easily migrate indoors, and most exposure to ambient air pollution occurs inside buildings. Recent research indicates that people living near congested highways face a greater risk of such diseases and that moving to a less- polluted neighborhood lowers their risk. The authors describe “promising and largely unexplored” approaches to reducing the health impact of air pollution through interventions targeted at communities and at indivi duals. They base their recommendations on published studies and discussions from a 2009 workshop on this topic held in Vancouver, Canada. The authors argue that cities can improve residents’ health by considering air quality during land-use planning. For example, creating high-density, mixed-use areas would enable more people to walk or bicycle to work, school, and shops, thereby reducing emis- sions and encouraging more exercise; ideally, safe pedestrian and cycling greenways would be located away from traffic. For longer- distance travel, the authors suggest low-emission public transit. And in areas where wood burning is an important heating method, woodstove exchange progr

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