Air & Water
Traffic Report: Tailpipes & Childhood Cancer

Traffic Report: Tailpipes & Childhood Cancer

January 15, 2023

By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director

You don’t need to be stuck behind a smoke-belching car to know that breathing vehicle exhaust isn’t any good. But new evidence suggests it’s worse than previously thought—and possibly linked to a greater chance of cancer in kids.

The Centers for Disease Control recently picked apart health data from seven studies involving over 8,000 children and found that those living near busy roads were 50% more likely to develop leukemia. The finding aligns with a separate study just published in Environmental Health Perspectives, which connects exposure to traffic-related air pollution to leukemia, eye cancer, and reproductive tumors.

The findings aren’t conclusive—further research is needed to verify these relationships—but it does suggest a possible answer to a pressing mystery: Why does childhood leukemia, a disease whose cause remains unknown 90% of the time, account for a full one-third of all children’s cancer cases?

That traffic may be to blame isn’t surprising. After all, exhaust contains benzene, formaldehyde, 1, 3-butadiene, nitroarenes, metals, and sulfate, and many of its components have been classified as carcinogens.

So what can those of us living near busy roads do to keep our kids safe from exhaust? Here’s are our recommendations:

  • Learn about the Air Quality Index and check the forecast for your area. If the level will be orange or higher, make it an indoor day for your kids. If outdoor activity is necessary, avoid exertion.
  • Plan outdoor activities for mornings before pollution builds.
  • Keep your kids out of heavy traffic. If you get stuck, set your car’s air conditioner to re-circulate.
  • Don’t let your children play outside in or near high-traffic areas. Heavy breathing from exercise draws more pollution deeper into young lungs.
  • Keep windows closed on high-pollution days and when winds blow toward your home from nearby highways.
  • Dust is where many of air pollutants end up so clean with damp cloths and HEPA vacuum cleaners that avoid stirring it back into the air.
  • Feed your children foods rich in antioxidants like Vitamins C and E. Research suggests they may help protect against some of air pollution’s effects.
  • If you’re moving, consider the proximity of your new home to busy roads before you sign a lease or a sales contract.
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