Living Close to a Major Road, Says Kirtiman Awasthi, Could Affect Your Health

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If you're living by a main road, you could have reason to worry. A new study by scientists in Germany has revealed that living close to major roads (within 50 metres) and long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matters may be associated with increased death incidents from heart and respiratory diseases. The study was published in the journal Epidemiology (September 2006).

It was based on a group of about 4,800 women who participated in a basic study related to pollution between 1985 and 1994. Using that data, the researchers analysed death incidents between 2002 and 2005 among the same group. During the period, three per cent out of the eight per cent women who had died had succumbed due to diseases related to the heart and the respiratory system.

The scientists found that along busy roads, motorised vehicles contribute the most to the particulate matters and nitrogen dioxide emissions, which pose health risks. Mortality was found to be 70 per cent higher. The death incidents had increased by 34 per cent per 7 µg/m3 increase in tiny particles (PM10). For nitrogen dioxide, the increase was 57 per cent per 16 µg/m3.

Studies undertaken earlier have also established that mortality rises if people are exposed to fine particles over a longer period of time. According to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (8 March 2006), exposure to fine particle matter increases a person's risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. There are also indications from Europe that show that living close to busy roads increases this risk significantly.

Earlier, a study published in the journal Respiratory Research (2005) revealed that PM10 and traffic related pollution caused respiratory diseases and reduced pulmonary function.

While the researches are busy establishing links between particulate matter and mortality, the European parliament has voted to defer enforcement of standards to protect people from air pollution until 2014. Limits for particles and nitrogen dioxide were adopted in 1999.

While limits for PM10 entered into force in January 2005, the limit values for nitrogen dioxide are to become legally binding only in 2010. The European parliament has voted to weaken the daily limit for PM10.

Scientists say that weakening daily limits would especially affect children and the elderly by allowing more "pollution days" each year. The European Commission also criticised the EU on proposed amendments that would extend time for compliance with PM10 limits beyond the deadline of 1 January 2010, and weaken the existing daily limit on concentrations of PM10 by allowing it to extend to 55 days per year instead of the present 35 days.


Down to Earth, October 2006