Traffic & Lung Cancer

Here’s some definitive research about the effects that air quality near busy roads has on our lungs – especially the lungs of children – including a higher incidence of cancer. If you happen to be relocating, this data may help in your selection of a new home site.  If you’re not relocating, I’ll include some practical suggestions you can do, personally.

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Living near busy road stunts children’s lung growth, study says

Research reveals that living in proximity of traffic

increases risk of lung cancer by 10%


Sandra Laville

The Guardian

25 Nov 2019


The analysis by King’s College London is the first to examine a wide range of health conditions linked to living near areas of air pollution from traffic. It compared 13 different health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and bronchitis, across 13 cities in the UK and Poland.

The study reveals that living within 50 metres of a busy road may increase the risk of lung cancer by 10%, and stunt lung growth in children by 3–14%.

Examining different cities in the UK, the research suggests levels of roadside air pollution restrict lung growth in children by approximately 14% in Oxford, 13% in London, 8% in Birmingham, 5% in Bristol, 5% in Liverpool, 3% in Nottingham and 4% in Southampton.

One third of Londoners – about three million people – are estimated to live near a busy road.

The coalition of 15 health and environment NGOs who released the report, including ClientEarth and the British Lung Foundation, are calling for legal levels of particulate pollution to be reduced to World Health Organization limits by 2030.

The WHO limit is that small particles known as PM2.5 should not exceed an annual mean of 10μg/m3 (10 micrograms per cubic metre), or a 24-hour mean of 25 μg/m3.

Existing UK legal limits for PM2.5 are more than double the WHO limit. No political party has committed to bringing the limit to within WHO guidelines by 2030.

Lucy Harbor, a mother from north London who founded Clean Air 4 Schools, said the findings were deeply worrying.


“Me and my family live by the A10

and my kids go to a school on a busy

main road. Sadly, this report confirms

many of my worst fears – that where

we live and go to school could

seriously be affecting our health.


“We are these statistics – one of my chil-

dren was hospitalised with pneumonia

and has had asthma. That my children’s

lung growth could be stunted by 12.5%

makes me seriously question whether

enough is being done to urgently bring pol-

lution levels down on main roads in London.”


The research suggests that reducing air pollution by one fifth could see the lung cancer cases go down by 7.6% in London, 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.

Research shows living near a busy road can trigger bronchitic symptoms among children with asthma. The study – which examines symptoms that affect a larger number of people – suggests 3,865 fewer children could be affected in London if pollution was reduced by one fifth, with other cities also seeing significant reductions.

Dr Heather Walton, senior lecturer in environmental health at King’s College London, said it was the first time that health impact calculations for such a wide range of health conditions and cities had been included in one report.


“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.”


Andrea Lee, clean air campaigns and policy manager at ClientEarth, which has successfully taken the government to court over illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution from traffic, said:


“Toxic air puts an unfair burden

on people’s lives. The good news

is that solutions are available.

The UK’s first clean air zone in

London is already having an impact.

But much more needs to be done

to help people across the country

move to cleaner forms of transport.”

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One sentence in this report really caught my eye …


“No political party has committed to bringing

the limit to within WHO guidelines by 2030.”


While this research was based in the UK, I doubt that the results are any different in the U.S. or elsewhere. In fact, as over 50% of all new cars sales in Europe are electric, the emission from their roads may improve at a faster rate than those in the U.S.

But the primary conclusion I draw, in terms of how to live healthier, is that none of our governing parties can be relied upon to take seriously constructive action.

Rhetoric: maybe.

Action: no.

That takes me back to one of the signs I saw being carried in one of the climate marches …


“The greatest threat to our planet is the

belief that someone else will save it.”


So, what are some practical actions you, as an individual, can take to reduce the harmful effect of emissions if you live within 50 metres – or 165 feet – from a busy roadway?


  • Plant trees in and around your home, to absorb pollution. They suck up carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and emit oxygen.


  • The report also stresses level of particulate matter, which trees won’t reduce. However, bushes will create a barrier – though only a slight barrier – so that particulate matter won’t come into your yard or home.


  • Make your home as healthy as possible. Large-leafed plants on the inside will give you more oxygen and help your lungs heal. They can be planted in large pots or urns.


  • Zero VOC paint and solid wood cabinets – as opposed to plywood and melamine cabinets – don’t off-gas, and will help your lungs stay healthy.


  • One final consideration: Allergies. We all have immune systems that help keep us healthy. However, if something in our environment overtaxes some aspect of our immune system, we say “I’ve got allergies.” Rather than “My environment is causing my immune system to decline, which may be causing me to have allergies,” which is true in most, but not all cases.

While your best bet is to move away from busy streets, these  suggestions all help reduce attacks on your immune system, so you can enjoy greater health.

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