Study shows dangers of on-road pollution

Though Los Angeles traffic is often inevitable, results from a Keck School of Medicine of USC study released last week show that drivers have some control over their exposure to road particle pollution based on their choice of car ventilation settings.

Environmental health researchers Scott Fruin, assistant professor of preventative medicine, and Neelakshi Hudda, research associate in environmental health, conducted the first study of its kind on in-vehicle exposure including a full range of car types, operating conditions and all types of on-road particulate pollution.

“In our study we found that a simple step, setting car ventilation to recirculate, reduces exposure to vehicle related particulate pollution by 70 to 80 percent,” said Fruin, the senior author of the study.

Researchers said the study, which was published in Environmental Science & Technology, is the most comprehensive study of its kind.

“Until this comprehensive study, measurements have been based on only a few cars and usually only one pollutant,” Hudda said in a press release. “We showed that recirculation settings produce large exposure reductions across all car types and for all particulate pollutants.”

Fruin and Hudda said the findings of their study can help people decrease their risk of the negative health effects resulting from traffic-related particulate pollution. Some of these risks include premature mortality, heart disease and cancer.

“When driving, right off the bat you are in an unhealthy environment because you’re so close to vehicle emissions, but if you are in that situation, especially with long commutes, taking this simple step can reduce exposure,” Fruin said.

The study also revealed that exposure levels are lower in newer cars driving at slower speeds on major roads.

Talia Moradkhanian, a junior majoring in sociology, found these findings interesting as a commuter student who spends up to an hour and 20 minutes in traffic each day when she drives from her home in Glendale to the USC campus.

“It’s our health so we should care. Campus should definitely promote the results of the study because if it’s something so easy to do, why not?” Mordkhanian said.

Michelle Garcia, USC’s associate director of transit, said that the USC Transportation office would consider posting the results of the study on its  Facebook page, in addition to evaluating whether its buses can utilize the recirculation setting on their vents.

Some students said they would appreciate efforts to publicize this information.

“Living in L.A. in general, air pollution is something I think about. It would be so easy and helpful to just put signs in the parking lots reminding students to adjust their vent settings,” said Elizabeth Fisher, a junior majoring in communication.

The best way to reduce exposure to these pollutants, Fruin said, is to drive less or utilize public transportation whenever possible.

According to Garcia, the USC Transportation office recognizes the importance of public transportation and encourages students to utilize their  programs.

“We organize carpools, vanpools and offer discounts on permits for carpooling,” Garcia said. “We also have a program for the Metro where students can get passes at our office instead of going to the Metro site.”

Katherine Strashnov, a junior majoring in communication, uses the Expo Line in order to get to her job in Culver City

“I’ve only seen one other USC student commuting on the Expo Line before. It’s easy for where I work but I know a lot of people don’t take it because it’s harder [to get places] once you get further into L.A.,” Strashnov said.

Fruin recognizes the challenge of using public transportation in Los Angeles, but said people who read his study and understand the negative environmental and health effects of driving should try to utilize public transit as much as possible.

After completing the study, Fruin hopes to use its momentum to receive funding for a new project, which would investigate the health effects of commuting.


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