A radical notion, no? That thousands of concentrated small horizontal smokestacks emitting the leftovers of burning petroleum based products could cause breathing problems for people who live next to these areas of concentration, otherwise known as highways. It may strike you as common sense, but that common sense had no scientific foundation until fairly recently. In the last ten years, there’s been a remarkable wave of research connecting a variety of ailments to proximity to freeway pollution, including asthma, lung disease, bronchitis, emphysema, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and autism. So how should urban planners respond in routing traffic through a city when they know the people living near the traffic will statistically be at higher health risk? That’s the question starting to be debated in Los Angeles thanks to citizens and groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council. They’ve sued the local air quality district to make authorities locate monitors near or beside the most congested freeways in LA because they believe such monitors would show new violations of the Clean Air Act that could then be addressed. They’re also challenging city planners to take a new look at how roads are run through communities. For decades it was standard practice to slice up minority communities with freeways. Now, it seems likely there are Environmental Justice lawsuits that could be filed based on the same MO. This local fight has the potential to set a national precedent that could begin to affect many different proposed highway projects. Read this story and take note because the science is already here – the policy has to catch-up.  

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