It's already fairly well-known that living close to a highway is correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, even after controlling for socioeconomic status (property values go down as you get closer to a highway).
Now scientists are trying to hone in on the culprit, and a likely candidate is ultrafine particulate emissions, very tiny particles emitted in vehicle exhaust that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cross into the bloodstream.
The dangers of coarse particulate have long been well understood (though it seems lawmakers can no longer be bothered to do much about it), but many scientists believe that ultrafine particles are even more harmful, though they are far less regulated.
Researchers suspect the health risk from ultrafine particles is greatest downwind and within 300 feet of busy highways. Farther away, the particles tend to dissipate or collide with other particles to become larger. The particles, each thousands of times smaller in diameter than a human hair, are easy to breathe in, and they readily spread throughout people's circulatory systems and enter their brains. On their surfaces, they can carry toxic chemicals and metals.
Tufts University is conducting a study on ultrafine particulate from Boston's urban highways. Here in Hamilton, the city that just loves urban highways, we would be wise to follow this and pay attention to the results.
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