Science Pick: Traffic and Brain Health

Editor’s note: With this post, CHE is initiating a series of “Science Pick” brief commentaries on scientific studies of significance to our partners.

Nancy Myers
Science and Environmental Health Network

I would like to highlight a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams.” In this piece published November 8, 2011, Robert Lee Hotz calls attention to the growing body of research on the effect of traffic fumes on brain health and development.

The popular press has an important role in interpreting science for the public. Too often, however, cutting-edge science like this is interpreted as controversial, which means journalists feel obliged to present contrasting views.  Notice that this article contains no such counterarguments, only a few hedging remarks about uncertainties.

Perhaps the fact that traffic pollution is harmful is already a no-brainer, so to speak.

A more useful press convention is to point to solutions, which Hotz does nicely:

“In New Jersey, premature births, a risk factor for cognitive delays, in areas around highway toll plazas dropped 10.8% after the introduction of E-ZPass.”

“AfterNew York traffic managers rerouted streets in Times Square recently to lessen congestion, air-pollution levels in the vicinity dropped by 63%.”

Though the article doesn’t contain links to the actual peer-reviewed studies, the studies are easy to find in a search. Here, for example, are some open-access journal articles to which the report alludes.

Residential Proximity to Freeways and Autism in the CHARGE Study. Heather Volk and others, Environmental Health Perspectives,119(6) June 2011.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons–Aromatic DNA Adducts in Cord Blood and Behavior Scores in New York City Children. Frederica P. Perera and others, Environmental Health Perspectives,April 12, 2011.

Children Are Likely to Suffer Most from Our Fossil Fuel Addiction. Frederica P. Perera, Environmental Health Perspectives,April 17, 2008.

Nancy Myers posts information on cumulative impacts at, a project of CHE and the Science and Environmental Health Network.


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