Improving the Health of Near Highway Communities

This morning I had the opportunity to attend the release of “Improving the Health of Near-Highway Communities,” a report by the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health (CAFEH) project.

As those who are local may know, the CAFEH study is a series of community-based participatory research projects about localized pollution near highways and major roadways in the Boston area. The effort is a partnership between several Tufts schools – including Tisch College, where I work – and community organizations.

In fact, part of what’s particularly interesting about CAFEH is that it started when community members from STEP (Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership) approached a Tufts faculty member at the School of Medicine.

Since then, it has grown to a large, multidimensional effort which seeks to quantify the health effects of living near freeways and develop tangible solutions to mitigate those effect.

And if you’re wondering, living near highways is quite bad for your health. Research shows that those who are most exposed to roadway pollution have rates of heart disease and lung cancer that are 50% to 100% higher than people who don’t have that exposure. Lead exposure near McGrath Highway as led to a permanent 8-10 point drop in IQ for children along that corridor.

This is clearly an environmental issue, but it is more importantly an environmental justice issue.

Because who lives near highways?

Poor people.

People who can’t afford to live anywhere else.

And it is these people who are most exposed to ultrafine particles, neurotoxins and other pollutants which are not only an issue outside, but which can actually seep into your home.

But there is some good news in all this. CAFEH researchers as well as a few similar studies around the globe are developing a better understanding of the effect and impact of these ultrafine particles. And they are working hand in hand with policy makers, architects, urban planners, and community members to do something about it.

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