ICC Could Be Hazardous To Your Children's Health

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Sunday, December 3, 2006

More than 1 million residents of the Washington-Baltimore region already live close to heavily trafficked motorways where dangerous soot pollution is at levels that can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and respiratory disease. Building the $2.4 billion (and rising), 18-mile intercounty connector linking Interstate 270 to Interstate 95 through neighborhoods and near schools would worsen these health problems.

Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D) reiterated his support for the road following his election last month, but if the public demands protection for our children and the elderly, he still could take steps to prevent these health hazards.

The toxic pollution the ICC would generate will threaten the health of children who live, play and attend schools and day-care centers near this proposed highway. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended protecting children from the harmful effects of air pollution by not locating schools near highways.

California has banned new schools from locations within 500 feet of major highways. Yet located within 500 feet of the proposed ICC route are a school (Drew Elementary) and several parks: East Norbeck Park; Northwest Branch Recreational Park; Layhill Park; Rock Creek Regional Park; and ball fields and playgrounds near Royal Forest in Colesville.

The California law is based on recent research that links motor vehicle emissions and adverse health effects suffered by children. There are numerous studies from around the world that demonstrate that children in neighborhoods adjacent to freeways and major truck routes are at significantly greater risk of serious health impairment from asthma and other respiratory ailments.

There is also new evidence that early exposure to air pollutants found in car and truck exhaust can increase the risk of cancer in later life. Newborns who were exposed during gestation to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as a result of their mothers living near truck routes in Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx in New York were found to have damage to their chromosomes. These chromosome changes have been associated with the development of cancer, especially leukemia. Even fetuses appear to be vulnerable to the adverse health effects of motor vehicle-related pollutants.

The state of Maryland's own study finds that the ICC would boost traffic on parts of Interstate 370, I-270 and I-95, and on the Beltway and many local north-south roads, causing increased pollution at other sensitive sites near these roads, such as Montgomery Blair High School and Holy Cross Hospital.

Results from an analysis of the ICC show that there are viable transportation alternatives that would improve mobility in the ICC corridor at lower cost and with fewer negative effects to environmental and community health. These alternatives include time-of-day tolling of some existing and new expressway lanes in existing corridors, enhancing

bus and rail transit, encouraging more transit-oriented development near Metro stations, and balancing job growth across the region.

Outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and the Bush administration papered over these issues in approving the ICC. Environmental Defense and other groups plan to file legal challenges to the ICC that soon will provide Gov.-elect O'Malley an opportunity to meet our transportation needs without endangering our children's health.

-- John M. Balbus


-- Jim Fary

Silver Spring

John Balbus is health program director at nonprofit Environmental Defense. Jim Fary is a former Environmental Protection Agency policy analyst and planner.

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