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A study shows that those children living near the main streets have twice the chance to get lower scores in communication tests than those who live on the streets.

“We know that living near main roads – interstate or state highways – is associated with high air pollution,” explained study leader Sandie Ha, associate professor at the Department of Public Health at the University of California.

Ha and her team’s research shows that those children who lived near a major motorway at birth have IQ nonverval, verbal IQ and lower visual-motor skills in the midst of childhood compared to their friends living further. Estimates show that between 30% and 45% of people living in large cities in North America live at about 400 meters from a motorway or main road.

The analysis by Ha and her colleagues comprised over 5,000 children. They have been analyzed for development from five perspectives: fine motor skills, general motor skills, communication, personal social functioning and the ability to solve problems. Furthermore, researchers have sought to measure the exposure of children to ozone and fine inhalable particles. Ozone can adversely affect the lungs through constriction of the muscles in the airways, while fine inhalable particles cause irritation to the lungs and, in some cases, respiratory and cardiac problems.

“We have found that living near a main street […] is associated with up to twice the risk of having communication delays when the child reaches the age of 3,” Ha explained. What does it mean? Less than 500 meters.

In addition, researchers have also found that exposure to high pollution during pregnancy is associated with the risk of developmental problems in children.

These findings are not cause-to-effect, they are simple connections. Moreover, the study was conducted in northern New York, where pollution is relatively low – precisely why Ha wonders how the results would have been shown if the study were conducted in a more polluted area, such as the center of California.

Traffic intensity in large cities is a significant source of pollution, but others are cigarette smoke and smoke from burnt garbage. “[Taking into account] the proportion of people who are exposed to this risk factor is great, it is very important to do something about this,” said lecturer Breda Cullen of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing was not involved in the study.

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