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Experts Highlight Strategies to Mitigate Harmful Traffic Pollution

Update Date: Oct 21, 2013 03:08 PM EDT

New research reveals more evidence that traffic pollution is bad for health.

In a new commentary, experts highlight the growing body of epidemiologic evidence that show a causal effect between exposure to air pollution from traffic and asthma and lung cancer.

Even though Canadian residents enjoy good air quality, researchers said that around 21,000 people die prematurely from air pollution each year in Canada. That's about nine times more than the number of people killed in traffic accidents.

"This high prevalence of exposure, in addition to evidence of associated health problems, suggests that traffic-related air pollution is a substantial public health concern in Canada," Michael Brauer, School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, BC, and colleagues wrote in the commentary.

In the article, Brauer and his team emphasized four overlapping strategies to help lessen the effects of traffic-related air pollution:

1.     Cut vehicle emissions by implementing programs to remove or retrofit high-emission vehicles; cutting traffic congestion; increasing infrastructure for electric cars

2.     Altering current infrastructure by limiting heavy truck traffic to specific roads; separating active commuting zones from busy roads

3.     Improve land-use planning and traffic management by putting buildings like schools and retirement homes at least 150 m away from busy streets

4.     Promote behavioral change by creating policies to cut traffic congestions in specific areas and promoting alternative commuting behaviors

Researchers said there are many studies showing that these types of environmental strategies are successful at improving human health.

For instance, the introduction of the "congestion charge zone" in London, UK significantly reduced traffic volume and congestion that lead to "an estimated gain of 183 years of life per 100 000 residents within the zone over a 10-year period," according to researchers.

"Although these interventions alone benefit health, combining strategies can result in more cost-effective policies and greater improvements to population health," researchers concluded.

The article is published in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

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