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Locating Athletic Fields Away From Busy Roads Recommended

California law bans locating fields less than 500 feet from high traffic highways

Despite of mounting epidemiological evidence and numerous medical journal articles about the dangers and serious consequences of vehicular air pollution and adverse respiratory/cardiovascular health, many athletic fields and school playgrounds are being built adjacent to high traffic roadways.

Scientist's have found that the exhaust from cars, trucks, and buses contains chemicals that can be harmful. Some of these chemicals can cause breathing problems and asthma attacks and some of the chemicals contribute to the risk of cancer. Medical doctors say that the toxins inhaled by children while playing sports are especially dangerous to young athletes for three reasons:

  1. Their lungs are still maturing;

  2. Their immune system is still developing; and

  3. The higher rate of inhalation during athletic activity brings more pollutants into their respiratory system.

The fumes and soot from transportation vehicles is called particulate matter; tailpipe exhaust from motor vehicles which contain both gases and suspended particulates. These particles, ranging in size from coarse to ultra fine are called "particulate matter."

Particulate matter pollution has become a serious area of concern because, with open land in many communities becoming increasingly scarce, more and more athletic fields are being constructed in close proximity to highways.  With youth sports tournament play now a mega-business, clubs are using easy ingress and egress to major highways as a sales tool.

The general consensus is that playing fields should not be located any closer than 500 feet and ideally 1,000 feet from a major highway (major being a highway with over 50,000 vehicles a day).

The State of California leads the nation with a law for protecting people from this deadly type of pollution, prohibiting any school, day care facility, recreational or sports facility, or nursing home less than  500 feet from a major highway.

Janice J. Kim, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician from the Air Toxicology and Epidemiology Branch of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in Oakland, California, told me "in addition to carbon monoxide, there are other traffic-related pollutants that are higher near freeways that have health risks, including nitrogen dioxide, ultra fine particles (including diesel exhaust particulates).

Another concern for young athletes, especially those with asthma, would be strenuous training outdoors on high ozone days (ozone is not necessarily higher near busy roads)," says Dr. Kim.  Add all of these together on a high ozone day and our children who are playing too close to a highway will be in a very high risk situation.