Traffic-Related Air Pollution

Environmental and Occupational Health Pearls: Traffic-Related Air Pollution

A bi-monthly feature providing clinical information and resources from Public Health Ontario on matters relating to environmental and occupational health. This edition considers the most important questions about traffic-related air pollution.

What’s important for family physicians to know?

Pollution from cars is found in higher concentrations close to roadways with high traffic volumes.1  In many urban areas, this traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) which includes ultrafine particles and oxides of nitrogen is the main contributor to air pollution.2 

Concentrations of TRAP are highest within 50 meters of major roadways although some degree of elevation may be found 200-300 metres away.3 People living, working, playing, exercising and travelling on or near major roadways will have higher exposures than those who are further away and this may contribute to adverse health effects.2 

Being inside a car or house does not protect against exposure to TRAP. In Ontario, 28 per cent of the population lives near a major roadway, and 42 per cent commute at least half an hour to work.1  

How can Family Physicians respond?

Physicians can advise patients to exercise and choose walking/biking routes away from heavy traffic where possible as an effective measure to reduce exposure to air pollutants. 

Where can I find more information?

An infographic on the topic is available from Public Health Ontario.

Other helpful references are listed below. 

[1]    Public Health Ontario. Traffic-related air pollution: avoiding the TRAP zone. [Internet]. Toronto, ON: Public Health Ontario; 2016 [cited 2017 Nov 9].

[2]    Health Effects Institute. Traffic-related air pollution: a critical review of the literature on emissions, exposure, and health effects. Special report 17 [Internet]. Boston, MA: Health Effects Institute; 2010 [cited 2017 Nov 9].

[3]    Brauer M, Reynolds C, Hystad P. Traffic-related air pollution and health in Canada. CMAJ. 2013 Dec 10;185(18):1557-8.