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U.S.-Mexico border residents fed up with air pollution from ceaseless traffic: 'It's a public health issue'

"Lives are being affected."

"Lives are being affected."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

El Paso, Texas, residents who live close to one port of entry from Mexico are saying enough is enough when it comes to toxic air pollution, which is choking their neighborhood.

What's happening?

The Bridge of the Americas in El Paso is one of the most popular ports of entry from Mexico in the region, but local residents say that air pollution from idling vehicles — particularly transport trucks — is killing them, the Guardian reported

Though the toll-free bridge was largely meant to more easily connect families on either side of the border, it is now heavily used by commercial vehicles pushing goods across the border.

Local officials are looking to update the bridge's 50-year-old infrastructure, but activists fear the move will cater to commercial interests and exacerbate pollution levels. 

"It's a public health issue," community organizer Cemelli de Aztlan told the Guardian. "Lives are being affected."

Why is El Paso's pollution problem concerning?

Residents of the San Xavier community, which is adjacent to the bridge, are identifying maladies due to exposure to pollution from the idling traffic. For instance, one long-time community member, Ricardo Leon, told the Guardian that he developed a cough from exposure to diesel fumes.

"They're just idling and you can smell everything. On a hot day, it's very, very irritating, annoying. You just can't stand it. Your eyes start burning, you feel it in your throat, you can taste it," he told the publication.

Air pollution from vehicles also can increase the incidence of asthma, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, Penelope Quintana, a public health professor at San Diego State University, told the Guardian. She added that heavy-duty trucks release more of this pollution than passenger vehicles and that it is generally more toxic.

But that's not all. The Environmental Protection Agency rated air toxics cancer risks in the neighborhoods surrounding the bridge in the 95th to 100th percentile range compared to other areas of the country, the Guardian revealed.

Plus, air pollution has been correlated with higher incidences of suicide. And even levels deemed "safe" in the United States have been tied to altered brain development in children, which could put them at higher risk for suffering mental health disorders as adults, according to researchers.

All of these transportation-related pollutants also contribute to the warming of our world, which puts us at greater risk for more severe natural disasters like flooding, droughts, and deadly heat waves. 

What's being done about toxic pollution?

The General Services Administration is looking at designs for the new port, "including an option that would prohibit commercial vehicles." In any case, the new bridge will feature more lanes — some think this will exacerbate pollution woes, while others say an increase in efficiency could prevent idling, thereby reducing pollutants in the surrounding area. 

Elsewhere, a number of cities and countries have taken steps to reduce pollution from traffic to protect communities. For instance, Stockholm has banned diesel and petrol cars from entering the city center. Meanwhile, Scotland is turning many urban neighborhoods into "20-minute cities," so that residents have access to public transit.

You can help with air pollution by changing how you get around: Try walking, cycling, and taking public transit when possible. 

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