From The Province:

Public elementary schools in low-income neighbourhoods are more likely to be located near a major road or highway, exposing students to higher levels of air and noise pollution, according to a new B.C. study.

The study, which examined the proximity of 1,556 schools to a major thoroughfare in Canada’s 10 largest cities, found that more than 22 per cent of schools located in the poorest neighbourhoods lie within 75 metres of a major road, compared to 13 per cent for the richest areas.

“The relationship between income and proximity was quite consistent across cities,” said Simon Fraser University assistant professor Ryan Allen, one of the co-authors of the study, published this week in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

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One possibility for the correlation, speculated Allen, could be that high volumes of vehicular traffic make a neighbourhood less desirable, driving property values down and making them more affordable to low-income residents.

The study obtained addresses for elementary schools in Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. The schools where then geocoded and their proximity to the nearest major road calculated.

“About 16 per cent of the schools we looked at is close enough to a major road to have elevated pollution and noise,” said Allen, a health-sciences professor.

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Research has shown that increased exposure to traffic-generated air pollution is linked to reduced lung functions, asthma and decreased cognitive functions. Noise pollution is also linked to increased blood pressure and reduced sleep quality.

The study does not list schools and its distances to major roads, but authors said Vancouver schools near or along Knight Street or Kingsway would be representative of schools that fall within the 75 metres radius.

A 2003 city of Vancouver report on the Clark/Knight Corridor had noted that while ambient sound levels in classrooms during lessons should be 35 decibels, the cacophony on Knight Street exceeds 70 decibels.

“It would be a challenge to meet the relevant criteria (< 35 dBA) in classrooms, even with the windows tightly closed,” said the report.

Allen said he hopes the study increases awareness of where schools, daycares, and other similar facilities are built in the future.

“I’d like to see environmental quality be a consideration,” he said. “I think we have an obligation to provide a safe environment for our kids to grow up in.”

More.

Image from Flickr.

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