The air out there: Traffic, pollution and children’s health
This year, KPCC early childhood development correspondent Deepa Fernandes has been exploring the health impact of air pollutants from cars and roadways on children’s health. Her KPCC investigation found that 169 childcare centers in Los Angeles were within 500 feet of high-traffic freeways, the distance researchers say is the most dangerous for kids’ developing bodies. Researchers and health advocates have been working to educate communities and help them track the air quality in their schools and neighborhoods.
Fernandes led a discussion to further explore this issue April 24 at East Los Angeles Library. She was joined by Lou Calanche, founder and executive director of Legacy LA; Scott Chan, program director at the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance; James Gauderman, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California; and Dr. Elisa Nicholas, pediatrician and founder-project director of the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma.
Scott Chan showed some of the sensors being distributed to students to track air quality.
A larger, more expensive air-quality sensor was also demonstrated.
A map of schools affected by their close proximity to high-traffic roadways was shared.
Some of the audience questions the panel addressed included:
What levels of ultrafine particles are dangerous?
Gauderman: For larger particles monitored routinely by very good instruments, we have a good sense of what these are across communities and their link to health. It’s harder to find direct health links with ultrafine particles, but we do know from studies that proximity to roads and ultrafine particles comes with adverse health consequences.
Ultrafines are not currently measured as pollutants by the EPA, they are very local, and the sensors used to measure them can cost $5,000, making deployment difficult. At exactly what levels of ultrafine particles do we start to see health effects is a difficult question still left to be answered.
Are there any technologies and personal, local solutions available to improve the air quality of one’s own home?
Gauderman: Not really. If you’re near roads, keeping windows closed can help lessen the impact a little bit.
Nicholas: However, if you leave everything closed, you can have mold growing from dampness, or particles from cooking still affecting your home air quality.
Are kids in more Latino areas being more affected by air quality?
Calanche: Looking at communities such as Boyle Heights, where there are many freeways that run through the neighborhood, I would say yes. There’s the 60, the 10, the 5 and the 101 that run through Boyle Heights and are next to schools, so it is a big public policy issue in our community. We’ve found that informing communities that things like air quality put their children at risk, too, helps parents prioritize these issues and bring them to the attention of schools.
Do you get pushback from industry when trying to improve air quality regulation?
Nicholas: We just have to message it properly. Most of the [policy changes] have helped people get to work more. There are new industries growing around cleaner air technology. Cleaning up the air is actually better for the economy, and that’s the messaging that we need to get out.
For more of Deepa Fernandes’s coverage of air pollution’s impact on children and schools:
Photo credit: Quincy Surasmith/SCPR