Health Experts Warn Against Schools Built Near Freeways
School campuses being built near freeways in Los Angeles have prompted warnings from health experts who have linked road pollutants to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Los Angeles Unified School District currently is building five schools within 500 feet of freeways and is considering building two more facilities.
These campuses are in addition to the nine schools that the district has opened near freeways since 1997.
A 2003 state law prohibits school districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway, unless the district can lessen the risk posed by air pollutants or prove that it has space limitations.
To obey the state law, the district approved air filtration systems to eliminate harmful pollutants.
However, health experts argue that filters cannot eradicate ultra-fine particles, which have been linked to asthma and bronchitis in studies.
Andre Nel, chief of nanomedicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Southern California Particle Center, said, "Ultra-fine particle numbers are highest on and around freeways and in experimental studies appear to have much higher levels of the damaging chemicals that are found to have health effects."
State law does not explicitly require districts to address ultra-fine particles in health evaluations, according to officials.
Angelo Bellomo -- head of the district's Office of Environmental Health and Safety, which conducts the evaluations -- said that recent studies have led him to institute a buffer of at least 200 feet between schools and freeways.
Bellomo said that a study found that ultra-fine particles are most prevalent within the first 200 feet of a major road.
Along with the buffer, Bellomo's office also recommended that the two proposed school sites adopt air filtration systems and reduce outdoor activity when air quality is poor.
Jim Gauderman, a USC researcher who found a link between proximity to freeways and increased asthma and decreased lung function in children, said a safe distance to a freeway has not yet been determined, but he noted that he found significant harmful effects on children who lived more than 1,600 feet from such roads (Larrubia, Los Angeles Times, 9/24).