Pollution near major roads tops inner city

The Hamilton Spectator March 30, 2004 - Susan Lamey Special to The Hamilton Spectator

People living within 50 metres of a major roadway such as King Street in Hamilton are dying faster than those living beyond that distance.

Dr. Murray Finkelstein, associate professor in Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine at McMaster University, said death rates double for people who live in high pollution areas. Deaths are from heart disease and stroke and not respiratory diseases usually expected from air pollution.

Finkelstein and six colleagues published a study in September, 2003 called Relation between Income, Air Pollution and Mortality: A Cohort Study.

Citing the study, he spoke yesterday at the third Upwind Downwind Conference, A Practical Conference on Improving Air Quality, hosted by the City of Hamilton.

Finkelstein said the study, using pollution measuring devices throughout Hamilton and Toronto, showed that pollution levels were not highest in the heart of cities but near a roadway. For example, downtown Toronto has less air pollution than along Highway 401.

Products of internal combustion engines are gases and particles which pollute the air. Diesel engines produce a hundred times more pollutants than gas engines with catalytic converters. The sulphur in automobile and diesel fuels leads to sulphur dioxides in exhaust that, when mixed with water, creates sulphuric acid, Finkelstein said. Nitrogen oxide is also produced and deaths increase by 5 per cent for every part per billion that nitrogen oxide gas increases.

Critics of Hamilton's eight kilometre, four-lane, Red Hill Creek Expressway, due to open in 2007, are concerned with results of studies such as Finkelstein's.

Along the expressway route are Elizabeth Bagshaw School, single family homes on Pottruff Road, town homes on Lang Street and apartment buildings along Greenhill.

A similar study conducted in the United States stated living within 100 metres of a major roadway doubles the death rate, Finkelstein said.

The consensus is that when pollution goes up deaths go up, Finkelstein said.

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