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Busy streets may up cancer risk

Aspen Times Staff Report

Children living on or near high-traffic streets have a higher incidence of cancer, including childhood leukemia, according to a study done in the Denver area.

Those living along Highway 82 in Aspen may be living with the same high cancer risk. The study showed that children living in homes near roads carrying 20,000 or more vehicle trips per day had a risk of developing cancer that is about six times greater than among those living in quieter neighborhoods.

Highway 82, on Hallam, Seventh and Main streets in Aspen, carries an average of 26,000 vehicle trips per day during the winter season, according to a release from the Aspen Environmental Health office.

The study was done by Robert Pearson, of Denver’s Radian International; electrical engineering Professor Howard Wachtel of University of Colorado at Boulder; and Kristie Ebi of the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. It was published in the February 2000 issue of “Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association.”

The exhaust of gasoline-burning vehicles is a significant source of several toxic organic compounds, including benzene. Exposure to elevated concentrations of benzene is a known cause of leukemia in adults. Diesel exhaust also contains fine particles that are known to cause cancer, according to the study.

Further, even individuals who don’t live right on the heavily traveled streets may be affected. Researchers considered houses within the typical pattern of exhaust dispersing from a heavily traveled route, up to 1,500 feet away from busy roads.

Although a house might be located on a quiet cul de sac, if it was within a few hundred feet of a busy thoroughfare, the study took that into account in assessing the risk to children there.

“What we are seeing is that children who live near high-traffic streets have an increased risk for childhood cancer,” said Pearson. “What we have yet to pin down is a direct cause-and-effect relationship.”

Lee Cassin, director of Environmental Health for the city of Aspen, said for those living near busy thoroughfares, there’s little that can be done. Closing windows does not keep the carcinogens out. In the case of benzene, a gas, or the very fine carcinogenic particles in diesel exhaust, windows do little to keep them outside, Cassin said.

Reducing traffic is currently the only way to reduce exhaust emissions, Cassin said. This can be done by combining trips, using alternate forms of transportation, working at home, or carpooling.

The city of Aspen maintains an air pollution-measuring device, but is only able to monitor particulate pollution. Consisting mainly of dust raised by vehicle tires, particulates often cause respiratory problems.

A summary of the Denver study can be viewed on the Environmental News Service Web site at http://ens.lycos.com

/ens/mar2000/2000L-03-01-03.html


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