The millions of miles of highway along the Pacific Coast of America are all designed to keep our cars, trucks, and buses from getting wrecked.
But according to a new study from the University of Michigan, the highways are also full of deadly pollutants.
The study found that the pollution in the roads is far worse than the EPA’s official estimate for it, which found that it is “at least twice as high as other types of emissions.”
But the study found the pollution doesn’t have to be so toxic for the roads to be dangerous.
For example, the study’s authors say the pollution could cause a person to suffer from asthma, and in fact, that could actually increase the chances of asthma in the future.
“When it comes to chronic disease, we are not talking about an epidemic of asthma,” said James K. Rieger, the lead author of the study and a research professor at the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“We are talking about a population where asthma rates are higher than the national average.”
This means that people who drive on highways, even if they aren’t impaired by the pollution, will have a greater chance of developing the disease.
Rieners team found that people in a particular area of the country who live in the southwestern United States, for example, had the highest rate of chronic bronchitis.
But it also found that pollution from the highway caused the disease in people in other parts of the US, too.
For instance, the team found higher rates of chronic lung disease and respiratory cancer in the eastern states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York than people in the southern states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas.
“Our findings indicate that these communities have an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma,” Riegers team wrote in their report.
Riffing off of previous research, the researchers found that if the highway were to be shut down, people who live along the highway could also face greater health risks than those who live on the same highways.
“If we were to close down these [highway] corridors, we would have an adverse health impact on our communities,” Riener said.
The researchers also found a correlation between higher pollution levels in the highway and the number of chronic diseases, including asthma, in those communities.
“The high pollution levels are a result of road construction and maintenance,” Rieder said, adding that “these types of issues are not unique to the Pacific Northwest, but are associated with a variety of transportation issues.”