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More freeway risks are found

July 23, 2007

Long-term exposure to air pollution from a nearby freeway or busy road can raise the risk of hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, German researchers have reported.

The study is published in the July 17 issue of Circulation, an American Heart Assn. journal.

Previous studies have linked elevated levels of air pollution to an increased risk of heart problems, but this is the first to demonstrate that living near high traffic is associated with coronary atherosclerosis.

The study looked at 4,494 adults, ages 45 to 74, in three large cities in the industrialized Ruhr area of Germany.

Doctors examined the participants, looking especially for coronary artery calcification, which occurs when fatty plaques forming in the artery walls become calcified, or hardened.

Researchers found that the chance of high coronary artery calcification was 63% greater for those living within 50 meters from major traffic than for those 200 meters from it.

For people within 51 meters to 100 meters, the chance was 34% higher. It was 8% higher for those within 100 meters to 200 meters of heavy traffic.

These percentages take into account age, gender, smoking and high blood pressure.

A five-year follow up study is set to be completed next year.

"Potential harm due to proximity to heavy traffic should be considered when planning new buildings and roads," said lead researcher Dr. Barbara Hoffmann of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

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