Sitting in traffic is unpleasant and bad for the environment — and new research indicates that it can be bad for your health, as well. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, air pollution from traffic can cause a spike in blood pressure comparable to the effect of a high-sodium diet.
What is happening?
The study, conducted by University of Washington professors, found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution caused a blood pressure spike that could still be observed 24 hours later.
While it has already been established that car exhaust can lead to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, particularly in children, the fact that it also directly leads to higher blood pressure is a new development — not surprising, necessarily, but worrying.
Why is this concerning?
These adverse health effects from traffic-related air pollution can affect you whether you are sitting in traffic yourself or if you live in an area with lots of car traffic. And, as the Guardian rightly points out, that means that it disproportionally affects people of color.
Notably, the Federal Highway Act of 1956 destroyed many communities of color by routing highways directly through them, displacing residents and leaving the ones who remained to deal with the effects of constant air pollution.
Policies like this one are known as environmental racism and cause communities of color to absorb the most harm from pollution and environmental degradation.
What can be done about it?
“If you live in an area that has heavy traffic-related air pollution, you want to keep your windows closed and have air filtration capability in your home,” one of the study’s authors told the Guardian.
Beyond that, however, to decrease the amount of traffic-related air pollution, we must move beyond the heavily polluting gas-powered cars that have dominated our society for so long.
That could mean switching to electric vehicles, which produce no tailpipe pollution, or — even more preferably — a big investment in public transit infrastructure from the government to lessen our reliance on cars.
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