We all know that living near a busy arterial road is generally less pleasant than living near a verdant park. Most of us would prefer to stay away from the noise and the ugly asphalt. But according to a study in Environmental Health journal, there’s another reason to avoid roads. The air pollution can be linked to dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
The paper is titled “Road proximity, air pollution, noise, green space and neurologic disease incidence: a population-based cohort study” and was published in 2020. You can read it online for free.
As with most scientific studies, it requires a some context for interpretation. It shows that people who live near major roads have higher chances of suffering from the aforementioned diseases, and that people who live near green spaces have lower chances. It also compares data about the specific qualities of the different areas, such as various types of air pollution, noise levels, and the level of “greenness.”
Notably, air pollution and greenness where both the main factors. Noise levels seemed to have no effect.
The data comes from examining zip codes and vital statistics in Vancouver. Its authors note that it can’t account for factors such as individual lifestyle and people with existing conditions moving (and possibly moving to better treat their condition).
Despite its limitations, this study seems to affirm what most of us already assumed: that living near cars is bad for your health. Besides the risks of stress, obesity, and literal death by crash, we can add dementia, MS, and Parkinson’s to the risks.
Even when we don’t know the exact science containing all of the risks of major roads, everyone already knows they’re bad. This is why politically-influential communities (wealthy, white) work to keep highways away, and so highways are instead built in non-politically-influential communities (poor, nonwhite). We also tend to rationalize traffic dangers as necessary evils, so we use language like “accident” to refer to avoidable traffic deaths.
But scientific research continues to show that deaths and diseases caused by car traffic are serious, and common sense shows that these situations are completely avoidable. (After all, we created the problems ourselves by building the cars and the roads.)
Until public policy catches up, we now have one more study to cite when someone asks why big roads are so bad.