USC Environmental Health Centers

Current news, events and research projects of the Environmental Health Centers based at USC

References: Living Near Busy Roads or Traffic Pollution

Please note: in the following citations, authors whose names are shown in red are/were scientists with, or are/were otherwise affiliated with, our Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center or Children’s Environmental Health Center at USC at the time of publication.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, including pollution near busy roads and freeways.  Studies show that women may develop high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy if they are close to high levels of air pollution. This type of diabetes is called “gestational” and often goes away after the baby is born. Some pregnant women develop an illness called "pre-eclampsia" that can result in high blood pressure and possible kidney damage.  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Gestational diabetes
Malmqvist E, Jakobsson K, Tinnerberg H, Rignell-Hydbom A, Rylander L. (2013). Gestational diabetes and preeclampsia in association with air pollution at levels below current air quality guidelines. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(4): 488-93.

High Blood Pressure or Preeclampsia
Wu M, Ries JJ, Proietti  E, Vogt D, Hahn S, Hoesli I. (2016). Development of Late-Onset Preeclampsia in Association with Road Densities as a Proxy for Traffic-Related Air Pollution. Fetal Diagnosis and Therapy, 39(1): 21-27.

Mobasher Z, Salam MT, Goodwin TM, Lurmann F, Ingles SA, Wilson ML. (2013). Associations between ambient air pollution and Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy. Environmental Research, 123: 9-16.

Pereira G, Haggar F, Shand AW, Bower C, Cook A, Nassar N. (2013). Association between pre-eclampsia and locally derived traffic-related air pollution: a retrospective cohort study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 67(2): 147-152.

Wu J, Ren C, Delfino RJ, Chung J, Wilhelm M, Ritz B. (2009). Association between local traffic-generated air pollution and preeclampsia and preterm delivery in the south coast air basin of California. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(11): 1773-1779.

Developing Fetus and Babies

Many harmful health problems can happen to a developing fetus when a pregnant mother lives near high levels of air pollution, including pollution from traffic.  There have been studies for a number of years on low-birth weight and babies being born early, and recently studies have found changes to the developing brain.  This might lead to behavior or learning or other “cognitive” problems, including autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia.  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Low birth weight (weigh less when born) or growth retardation (fetus is slower growing)
Wilhelm M and Ritz B. (2003). Residential proximity to traffic and adverse birth outcomes in Los Angeles County, California, 1994-1996. Environmental Health Perspectives, 111(2): 207–216.

Ritz B, Qiu J, Lee PC, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Erin Weiss R, McConnell R, Arora C, Hobel C, Wilhelm M. (2014). Prenatal air pollution exposure and ultrasound measures of fetal growth in Los Angeles, California. Environmental Research, 130: 7-13.

Born Early (also called preterm or premature birth)
Laurent O, Hu J, Li L, Cockburn M, Escobedo L, Kleeman MJ, Wu J. (2014). Sources and contents of air pollution affecting term low birth weight in Los Angeles County, California, 2001-2008. Environmental Research, 134: 488-495.

Wilhelm M, Ghosh JK, Su J, Cockburn M, Jerrett M, Ritz B. (2011). Traffic-related air toxics and preterm birth: a population-based case-control study in Los Angeles County, California. Environmental Health, 10: 89.

Problems with behavior, learning, autism or other disorders of the developing brain

Perera FP, et al. (2014). Early-life exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ADHD behavior problems. PLoS One, 9(11): e111670.

Guxens M, et al. (2014). Air pollution during pregnancy and childhood cognitive and psychomotor development: six European birth cohorts. Epidemiology, 25(5): 636-47.

Woodward N, Finch CE, Morgan TE. (2015). Traffic-related air pollution and brain development. AIMS Environmental Science, 2(2): 353-373.

Allen JL, Oberdorster G, Morris-Schaffer K, Wong C, Klocke C, Sobolewski M, Conrad K, Mayer-Proschel M, Cory-Slechta DA. (2015). Developmental neurotoxicity of inhaled ambient ultrafine particle air pollution: Parallels with neuropathological and behavioral features of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Neurotoxicology.

Raz R, Roberts AL, Lyall K, Hart JE, Just AC, Laden and Weisskopf MG. (2015). Autism spectrum disorder and particulate matter air pollution before, during, and after pregnancy: a nested case–control analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123: 264–270.

Volk HE, Kerin T, Lurmann F, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R, Campbell DB. (2014). Autism spectrum disorder: interaction of air pollution with the MET receptor tyrosine kinase gene. Epidemiology, 25(1): 44-7.

Volk HE, Lurmann F, Penfold B, Hertz-Picciotto I, McConnell R. (2013). Traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter, and autism. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(1): 71-77.

Pedersen CB, Raaschou-Nielsen O, Hertel O, Mortensen PB. (2004). Air pollution from traffic and schizophrenia risk. Schizophrenia Research, 66(1): 83-85.


For children who live or go to school near high levels of air pollution when they are young (or even before they were born), this can lead to health problems.  These include lungs not working and growing as fast as they should, if exposed to pollution when they were young.  Children can also develop asthma from air pollution near busy roads, are also likely to go to the hospital for asthma attacks.  Studies show more ear, nose, and throat infections for children who are near this kind of air pollution from traffic.  New studies may link a higher chance of obesity in children who live near busy traffic or if their mothers were regularly near traffic pollution when pregnant.  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Sbihi H, Tamburic L, Koehoorn M, Brauer M. (2016). Perinatal air pollution exposure and development of asthma from birth to age 10 years. European Respiratory Journal, 47(4): 1062-1071.

McConnell R, Islam T, Shankardass K, Jerrett M, Lurmann F, Gilliland F, Gauderman J, Avol E, Kunzli N, Yao L, Peters J, Berhane K. (2010). Childhood incident asthma and traffic-related air pollution at home and school. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(7): 1021-1026.

McConnell R, Berhane K, Yao L, Jerrett M, Lurmann F, Gilliland F, Kunzli N, Gauderman J, Avol E, Thomas D, Peters J. (2006). Traffic, susceptibility, and childhood asthma. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114: 766-72.

Hospitalization for asthma

Lin S, Munsie JP, Hwang SA, Fitzgerald E, Cayo MR. (2002). Childhood asthma hospitalization and residential exposure to state route traffic. Environmental Research, 88(2): 73-81.


Ear, nose, throat infections

Berhane K, Chang C-C, McConnell R, Gauderman WJ, Avol E, Rapapport E, Urman R, et al. (2016). Association of changes in air quality with bronchitic symptoms in children in California, 1993-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 315(14), 1491-1501. 

Brauer M, et al. (2007). Air pollution and development of asthma, allergy and infections in a birth cohort. European Respiratory Journal, 29(5): 879-888.

Brauer M, et al. (2002). Air pollution from traffic and the development of respiratory infections and asthmatic and allergic symptoms in children. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 166(8): 1092-8.

Smaller lungs for life

Gauderman WJ, Urman R, Avol E, Berhane K, McConnell R, Rappaport E, Chang R, Lurmann F, Gilliland F. (2015). Association of Improved Air Quality with Lung Development in Children. The New England Journal of Medicine, 372(10): 905–913.

Gauderman WJ, Vora H, McConnell R, Berhane K, Gilliland F, Thomas D, Lurmann F, Avol E, Kunzli N, Jerrett M, Peters J. (2007). Effect of exposure to traffic on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age: a cohort study. The Lancet, 369(9561): 571-7.

Gauderman WJ, Avol E, Gilliland F, Vora H, Thomas D, Berhane K, McConnell R, Kunzli N, Lurmann F, Rappaport E, Margolis H, Bates D, Peters J. (2004). The effect of air pollution on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age. The New England Journal of Medicine, 351: 1057-67.

McConnell R, Gilliland FD, Goran M, Allayee H, Hricko A, Mittelman S. (2016). Does near-roadway air pollution contribute to childhood obesity? Pediatric Obesity, 11(1): 1-3.

McConnell R, Shen E, Gilliland FD, Jerrett M, Wolch J, Chang CC, Lurmann F, Berhane K. (2015). A longitudinal cohort study of body mass index and childhood exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and air pollution: the Southern California Children's Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(4): 360-366.


Many of the health problems from air pollution (described above) for children can go into the teenage years.  For teenagers, by the time they have graduated from high school or soon after, most teens’ lungs will have reached “maturity,” meaning they will not likely grow any further. So if a teen’s lungs are smaller or don’t work as well at age 18, the lungs may not grow and get healthier as they grow into and adult.  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Smaller lungs for life if exposed since early childhood
Gauderman WJ, Vora H, McConnell R, Berhane K, Gilliland F, Thomas D, Lurmann F, Avol E, Kunzli N, Jerrett M, Peters J. (2007). Effect of exposure to traffic on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age: a cohort study. The Lancet, 369(9561): 571-577.

Gauderman WJ, Urman R, Avol E, Berhane K, McConnell R, Rappaport E, Chang R, Lurmann F, Gilliland F. (2015). Association of Improved Air Quality with Lung Development in Children. The New England Journal of Medicine, 372(10): 905–913.


Several recent studies show that being near air pollution for a long time over your life can give people a higher chance of having heart problems.  This is for ambient pollution (regional pollution that everyone in a community breathes) and traffic pollution (near-roadway pollution).  This pollution can lead to more cardiovascular (heart) disease, and being near air pollution for a long time over your life can lead to more deaths from heart disease.  There are now more studies showing links between traffic pollution and stroke.  One study showed that sudden cardiac deaths (including from stroke) is linked to traffic exposure in middle-aged women.  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Heart Disease

Gold DR and Mittleman MA. (2013). New insights into pollution and the cardiovascular system: 2010 to 2012. Circulation, 127(18): 1903-1913.

Raaschou-Nielsen O, et al. (2012). Traffic air pollution and mortality from cardiovascular disease and all causes: a Danish cohort study. Environmental Health, 11: 60.

Brook RD, et al. (2010). Particulate matter air pollution and cardiovascular disease: An update to the scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 121(21): 2331-2378.

Newby DE, et al. (2014). Expert position paper on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. European Heart Journal, 36(2): 83-93b.

Kunzli N, Jerrett M, Garcia-Esteban R, Basagana X, Beckermann B, Gilliland F, Medina M, Peters J, Hodis HN, Mack WJ. (2010). Ambient air pollution and the progression of atherosclerosis in adults. PLoS One, 5: e9096.



Brook RD, et al. (2010). Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease. An Update to the Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 121(21): 2331-78.

Seniors (middle aged adults and older)

One study of women with an average age greater than 60 were more likely to die from sudden cardiac deaths (including heart disease and stroke) if they lived near traffic pollution.  Some studies have linked  road traffic noise to stroke, but another study found that traffic air pollution was linked to stroke even when noise was taken into account.  Several studies show that traffic pollution is linked to premature death (dying younger than one might have otherwise).  Below are selected health studies on these topics.

Heart Attacks and Stroke

Hart JE, et al. (2014). Roadway proximity and risk of sudden cardiac death in women. Circulation, 130(17): 1474-82.

Hoffmann B, et al. (2015). Air quality, stroke, and coronary events: results of the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study from the Ruhr Region. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 112(12): 195-201.

Lung Problems

Lepeule J, et al. (2014). Long-term effects of traffic particles on lung function decline in the elderly. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 190(5): 542-8.


Memory Problems
Gatto NM, Henderson VW, Hodis HN, St John JA, Lurmann F, Chen JC, Mack WJ. (2014). Components of air pollution and cognitive function in middle-aged and older adults in Los Angeles. Neurotoxicology, 40: 1-7.

Chen, H, et al. (2017). Living near major roads and the incidence of dementia, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis: a population-based cohort study. The Lancet. Online 04 January 2017.

Shorter Life

Jerrett M, et al. (2013). Spatial analysis of air pollution and mortality in California. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 188(5): 593-599.

Hoek G, et al. (2002). Association between mortality and indicators of traffic-related air pollution in the Netherlands: a cohort study. The Lancet, 360(9341): 1203-9.

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