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Heart disease rate twice higher near freeways

February 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Researchers deliver a stunning blow to those who live near a freeway: The results of a study We've known for a long time that automobile pollution can cause respiratory problems. A new study from the University of Southern California and University of California-Berkeley points to more life-threatening issues. They've concluded that living too close to a freeway -- within 100 yards -- can cause strokes and heart disease.

Sarah Owings lives a few blocks away from the Glendale Freeway. Far enough that research indicates she's in a safe zone. 0020

Ron Spielmann lives within 100 yards of the freeway -- in the danger zone. He moved in before the freeway was built.

"You wash your car in the morning here, and before the sun goes down, you can write your name with your finger on the hood," said Spielmann.

The study concludes that living so close to a freeway leads to hardening of the arteries at twice the rate of those who live more than 100 yards away.

The three-year study found that arterial-wall-thickening increased each year at twice the rate of other participants. People who have lived near a freeway all their lives aren't surprised.

"It does concern me, but it doesn't surprise me," said Owings.

According to one of the researchers, the study shows that environmental factors play a larger role in heart disease than previously suspected.

By controlling air pollution from the traffic, there may be greater benefits, which may help people opposed to the extension of the 710 Freeway, an ongoing battle.

Janet Erwin lives on Meridian Street in South Pasadena. She believes the extension would cut through or under her neighborhood. The battle isn't over and she thinks the study helps the opponents' cause.

"I think this is going to be a big help," said Erwin. "The first [USC Keck School of Medicine] study that came out that talked about the bad effects on lung diseases and so forth and on cancer patients, that helped us a lot, and this will too."

For the first time, research has shown that air pollution contributes to the early formation of heart disease. And that's enough for Spielmann.

"After this study that I just read about, next time [my wife] goes to the doctor, she's going to have to check out her lungs and so on, the arteries -- in fact myself, absolutely," said Spielmann.

Not a bad idea for anyone living in the L.A. basin, but especially important for those who live within 100 yards of a freeway.