By: Kathy Feng
The most dangerous things that people can encounter are often times things that we cannot see. Living near the freeway can have drastic effects on a person’s health. The air pollution from the oncoming traffic is usually deemed minor because we cannot see the “ultrafine particles (<1nm) in the urban environment” . It is natural to think that living near the freeway would lead to more respiratory diseases, but in reality, most major health risks are found the cardiovascular system. Not only does air pollution negatively impact your health, but even the noise pollution from constant traffic can have a devastating effect on your sleep. Over a long period of time, noise pollution can lead to hypertension. Hypertension is defined as an elevated level of blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease and stroke if left untreated. Living next to the freeway may also disrupt continuous sleep, which in turn disrupts REM cycles while sleeping.
In one of the busiest freeways such as Interstate 405, there can be as many as 13,000 cars that pass by in an hour. 93% of those cars run on gasoline and can emit toxic fumes. This is not to say that there aren’t any positive outcomes of living near the freeway. For example, it is easier access to the freeway itself and this can cut transportation time significantly.
What is a safe distance from the freeway? An exact answer can’t be given because of the various factors that can affect the dispersal of the ultrafine particles in the air, such as wind or geological structure of the land. However, the California Air Resources Board 2005 guidelines recommend that a safe distance for children from freeways are 500ft .
For those that already live near the freeway, one way to lessen the amount of noise pollution that can affect sleep is in the installation of soundproof windows. As for air pollution, some newer homes near the freeway may already have High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. A HEPA filter can remove particles from the air that are greater than or smaller than 0.3nm. For some neighborhoods, there are already walls that surround the freeway that disperse the particles upward, although areas near the freeways still contain a higher concentration of particles. Planting trees also reduce the amount of particles that reach the home, since some of the particles can cling onto the leaves which act as natural barriers. Despite the convenience of living near the freeway, the negative impacts on holistic health can make or break the decision. How much is the convenience of living near the freeway worth to you?
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