Report: Living near busy roads harmful 

As more high-density apartment and condo developments rise along major Peninsula thoroughfares such as El Camino Real, local air-quality experts are warning of the harmful effects of vehicle pollution on children and adults who live nearby.

Experts point to a 2004 Bay Area study, as well as other national studies, which indicate that increased incidents of asthma and bronchitis as well as reduced lung capacity have been detected in people living near high-traffic corridors.

"It shocked me when I learned that there was [as much as a 10 percent] reduction in lung capacity that stays with people throughout life," county Supervisor Jerry Hill said at a recent presentation by the California Air Resources Board in Sacramento.

Karen Schkolnick, Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokeswoman, said that planning for development near transit centers must be sensible in order to not expose the public to significant air pollution. Senior centers, for example, should not be built near areas with high traffic. With housing projects moving forward along El Camino Real in cities like Redwood City and Millbrae, Hill is pushing to identify sources of air contaminants within one-half mile of developments near transit. He wants the county and cities to consider development limitations near high-traffic areas.

Among the strategies he’d like to see local governments enact are requirements for developers to install air filters on building ventilation systems, bans on idling diesel trucks and limitations on building sensitive projects too close to highways, ports and train tracks.

One of the more glaring studies conducted by the Air Resources Board examined 5,500 Southern California children living near a freeway over a ten-year span. Dale Shimp, environmental justice division manager for the Air Resources Board, said there was a 89 percent increase in the prevalence of asthma in those children and adolescents.

Not developing homes, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds or medical facilities within 500 feet of freeways or urban roads tops board recommendations.

By the numbers

Infants in areas near high-traffic zones, high carbon monoxide intake and traffic-related pollutants have had the following harmful effects:

» Low birth weight: 36 percent increase

» Premature birth: 27 percent increase

» Cardiac birth defects: Increase of up to three times

» Asthma: 89 percent increase

- Source: California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board

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