Living Near Busy Roads Can Increase Cancer Risks and Stunt Lung Development
Thu, April 22, 2021

Living Near Busy Roads Can Increase Cancer Risks and Stunt Lung Development

Air pollution can increase the risk of various diseases like cancer, and living near busy roads can raise those risks, a new study from King's College London concluded / Photo by: Jevanto Productions via Shutterstock

 

Air pollution can increase the risk of various diseases like cancer, and living near busy roads can raise those risks, a new study from King's College London concluded.

The study also found that being so close to major highways can stunt lung development in children and contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and bronchitis. It was the first to analyze a wide range of health conditions associated with living near areas where air pollution is rampant.

The results of the study add to the growing evidence of the grave health effects linked to air pollution.

 

Ill Effects of Living Near Busy Roads

The study was conducted across 13 different cities in the UK and Poland, where the researchers examined 13 different health conditions in people residing in high pollution areas compared to those who don't. It looked into hospital admissions and deaths as well as symptoms like chest infections.

Living close to a highway or busy road was found to increase the risk of lung cancer by 9.7%. Children residing near such areas are also at risk of slower lung growth (14%) compared to children who live close to quieter roads, British daily newspaper the Daily Mail reports.

It adds that children living in more polluted areas of London have lungs that grow 12.5% slower while those in Oxford, residing in the same conditions, develop the said organ 14.4% more slowly than children living in less polluted areas.

Living close to a highway or busy road was found to increase the risk of lung cancer by 9.7%. Children residing near such areas are also at risk of slower lung growth (14%) compared to children who live close to quieter roads / Photo by: ESB Professional via Shutterstock

 

Other cities also show concerning results in regards to children's lung growth development: 8% in Birmingham, 5% in Bristol, 5% in Liverpool, 3% in Nottingham and 4% in Southampton.

Experts fear that this phenomenon may account for 390 cases of lung cancer a year in London alone. Cars expel tiny pollution particles known as PM2.5 from their exhaust fumes, which people can easily inhale and thus damages the lung cells' DNA. This damage can then lead to cancer development in the organ.

The Daily Mail reports the researchers saying that exposure to high pollution levels could lead to 124 additional hospital admissions among children with asthma. Last year, a study also led by King's College London estimated that air pollution contributes to up to 36,000 deaths a year.

The British newspaper notes that poor air quality could trigger inflammation, which may affect the build-up of fatty deposits and narrow arteries that lead to the development of coronary heart disease.

Raising Awareness

About three million Londoners are estimated to live near a busy road—that's a third of the city's population at risk of cancer and heart conditions. This prompted the researchers to call for actions to reduce air pollution in major cities in the UK, including London.

The Guardian reports that if air pollution levels are decreased by 1/5, the cases of lung cancer will drop by as much as 7.6% in London. Other cities would also see decreases in cases: 6.4% in Birmingham, 5.9% in Bristol, 5.3% in Liverpool, 5.6% in Manchester, 6.7% in Nottingham, 6% in Oxford, and 5.9% in Southampton.

Improving air quality can also lead to fewer children (3,865) in London being exposed to bronchitis symptoms, with other cities also showing significant reductions.

The study was the first to look into the health impact of air pollution for a wide range of health conditions and in many cities, said Heather Walton, senior lecturer in environmental health at King’s College London.

"Previous calculations have concentrated on deaths, life expectancy and broad types of hospital admissions. Our report includes symptoms that affect a larger number of people such as chest infections [acute bronchitis] in children and effects on specific groups of people such as asthmatics."

Taking Action

Following the analysis of the study, the coalition of health and environment NGOs who released the report called for the reduction of legal levels of particulate pollution to meet the limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO) by 2030.

According to the Guardian, the WHO limit states that PM2.5 should not exceed an annual mean of 10 micrograms per cubic meter or a 24-hour mean of 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Current limits in the UK are double that of the WHO limit and no political party has made their commitment to bring down the limit within the WHO standard.

"Air pollution makes us, and especially our children, sick from cradle to the grave, but is often invisible," Rob Hughes, a senior fellow at the Clean Air Fund, told the Independent. The Clean Air Fund is a philanthropic initiative that seeks to address the air pollution issue around the world.

Hughes added the "impressive research" raises the awareness of "this public health crisis" that affects people across the UK and highlights the need for all political parties to act on "cleaning up our air."

Effects of air pollution on people's health is something that should be discussed, but the lack of awareness hinders such discussion. Highlighting these effects not only initiate discourse but could also lead to effective action that can help those who are the most vulnerable against the outcomes of air pollution.

Effects of air pollution on people's health is something that should be discussed, but the lack of awareness hinders such discussion / Photo by: Toa55 via Shutterstock