Is a faster commute worth it?

People living near major roadways are about twice as likely to die from heart and lung diseases as those who live farther away from such sources of air pollution, according to a new study of almost 4,500 people. The increased risk for people living within 100 meters of a freeway or within 50 meters of some other major road was apparent to researchers even after adjusting the data for the effects of participants’ smoking, education, occupation, income, and weight.

“People living at addresses with presumably higher long-term air pollution measures were at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases,” says Gerard Hoek of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The finding, published in the Oct. 19 Lancet, fits with other studies that have linked air pollution with increased heart and lung disease (SN: 1/20/01, p. 39: Diesel gases masculinize fetal rodents; SN: 7/7/01, p. 9: Blood points to pollution’s heart risks). No other disease was more common among the 5 percent of the new study’s participants living near major roads than among the 95 percent who didn’t.

Some of the subjects may have moved from their roadside homes since the ongoing study began in 1986. However, Hoek says most people in the study were unlikely to have done so because they were 55 to 69 years old when the research began, and more than 90 percent had lived in the same house for more than a decade before 1986.

All the participants originally had taken part in a Dutch study of diet and cancer. Hoek and his colleagues plan to study whether the proximity of homes to major roads and deaths from heart and lung disease are similarly linked among the other 116,000 people in the diet study.


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