The Injustice of Highway Pollution

Air pollution concentrations in Atlanta show a clear increase by highways. The purple dots are the locations of schools. Map:  Mysidewalk via Strongtowns
Air pollution concentrations in Atlanta show a clear increase by highways. The purple dots are the locations of schools. Map: Mysidewalk via Strongtowns

If the Trump administration rolls back fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, city dwellers will pay the highest price.

Asthma, pre-term births, and even childhood leukemia are linked to air pollution by roadways. And as Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist points out, air pollution in cities tracks closely with the location of highways.

The above map (borrowed from an earlier Strong Towns post) shows air pollution concentrations in Atlanta courtesy of MySidewalk. The higher the “respiratory hazard index,” the greater the likelihood of developing chronic health problems due to air pollution.

Givens says there’s a clear disparity in who enjoys the benefits of highways and who suffers the costs:

The drivers of cars and trucks might live in homes far from the highway and may suffer no negative health impacts from the pollution they help create. But city dwellers who live near the highway, and who might walk and take transit more so than they drive, are prone to pollution’s effect.

Adding to the injustice is that children — especially black children — suffer the greatest consequences. In the map of Atlanta, schools are highlighted in purple. In 2007, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation named the city its “Asthma Capital.”

  • NoiseAnnoys24

    Well, I for one am very surprised to find out that Trump doesn’t really care for poor people’s health. It’s almost like a big old businessman, who’s never shown interest for anyone (that he can’t grope) outside of his immediate circle, may have just lied to a bunch of poor folk, as he thought (knew) that they were gullible! Shocked, completely shocked!

  • Los Angeles is aware of this problem. Officials advised developers about the dangers of building residential within 1000′ of highways, yet the city keeps approving highway-adjacent projects.

    http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-freeway-pollution/

  • Athanasios1

    Let the Demorats in the “Blue” sanctuary cities choke.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Progressive cities and towns are precisely the places that are fighting back against the regressive, unscientific, and disingenuous deregulation of air quality rules and other measures intended to keep people from being poisoned. If the rich folks (almost always republican), who own and run companies and industries that pollute, tell us that this or that chemical, emission, or other form of pollution is “harmless” (as they typically say when they want to do something that will simultaneously raise their (short-term) profits and also pollute our air, water, or soil), then I say make them and their families publicly, live-in-front-of-a-TV-audience ingest that same chemical, breathe that emission, or otherwise take on the harm that they falsely and hypocritically say is harmless — a simple way to catch them in their prevarications and lies!

  • 1976boy

    That’s because it’s largely illegal to build anywhere else. Wanna fix that problem? Relax zoning and allow multi family housing in the 80% of the city where it is illegal.

  • Richard

    It’s not just highways, it’s any large street, and LA has plenty of those.

    If the cars are going to keep spewing, LA really should condemn all homes within 1000 feet of a major street. Problem is that would be most of the city.

  • Stephen Simac

    A case could be made for a class action civil suit by residents who live adjacent to highways. The obvious worst polluters are diesel trucking companies, most of which have lobbied successfully to be exempted from clean air regulations, claiming retrofits are “too expensive”, externalizing their medical costs to the people who live and work near roads.

  • Athanasios1

    Keep pedaling and breathe deeply.

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