rise over freeway health risks
Residents worry about pollution near schools
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 4, 2006 12:00 AM
With Phoenix in the throes of one of the worst winter air pollution seasons in
years, some involved in planning the South Mountain Freeway are wondering what
effect the project could have on the Valley's most vulnerable lungs.
Local activists and members of the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team have
peppered state and regional planners with questions about how much harm can
still be done by air that meets federal pollution standards. Those concerned
cite studies and legal settlements that suggest living or going to school near
freeways can result in long-term breathing problems for children.
"There's a common sense thing and enough studies that make that proximity
(to schools) a concern," said David Lafferty, an advisory team member from
proposed South Mountain Freeway would connect Interstate 10 in the west and
east, bypassing downtown Phoenix.
The Valley will continue to meet federal standards on carbon monoxide, ozone and
particulates 10 microns or less in size even if the South Mountain Freeway is
built, said engineers from the Arizona Department of Transportation and the
Maricopa Association of Governments at a recent citizens advisory team meeting.
Though vehicle miles traveled per weekday are expected to reach 134.1 million by
the freeway's scheduled completion in 2015, emission reduction technologies are
improving faster than new cars get on roads, said Lindy Bauer, MAG's
However, MAG is not required by the Environmental Protection Agency to plan for
particulates of 2.5 microns or less, also known as PM 2.5. Most particulates
from vehicle tailpipes meet this threshold, meaning they're small enough to
travel into the lungs and the bloodstream when inhaled, said Cathy Arthur, MAG's
air-quality modeling program manager.
A 1999 MAG study found that most of the Valley's infamous brown cloud is
composed of PM 2.5.
The proximity of several schools to the proposed freeway route worries several
advisory team members. A 2005 University of Southern California study found that
children were more likely to develop asthma the closer they lived to a freeway.
"It's a deadly issue," said John Rodriguez, a representative from
Ahwatukee Foothills. "They need to bring in medical experts."
Some pointed to a June settlement between the Sierra Club and the Federal
Highway Administration in which the government agreed to install air filters and
relocate some classrooms and a playground to lessen children's exposure to
emissions from a Las Vegas freeway.
Federal Highway Administration officials say the ruling does not set a
precedent. However, their Phoenix representatives said last week that they plan
to bring in experts to discuss new findings on pollutants.