Back to top

Prior Street traffic and our health

The following letter, courtesy of retired physician and local resident Dr. Michael Mandl, is reprinted with his permission. For privacy, we've edited out his contact information.

Date: 11 07 2012

RE: Prior St.

Dear Sirs,

I wish to communicate my anxieties and concerns relating to the current discussion concerning the “calming” of Prior Street.

As a physician I have been struck by the lack of a broad view of what I perceive to be the major problem. Most, if not all the discussion, relates to the engineering alternatives for Prior Street as a conduit for motor vehicles. I believe that the major issue involves the health and quality of life of the residents of Strathcona. Though the vehicular traffic is certainly part of the quality of life of the community, the attendant long-term consequences of the ongoing issues have a much more dramatic and potentially catastrophic outcome.

I believe that the major responsibility of elected officials is to ensure the quality of life of the communities which are involved in their election. This of course covers many facets of living in a community, but the primary one relates the quality of their health from which everything else flows.

We are all aware of the issues relating to tobacco smoke. It has taken approximately 40 years to confirm the observational studies with good science. Vancouver City Council is to be congratulated on their activity in the implementation of guidelines that improve health care and the quality of life of the citizens of Vancouver. This includes not only the obvious avoidance of tobacco smoke, both primary and secondary in restaurants, theaters, bars and supermarkets, but also the avoidance of tobacco smoke in parks, beaches, and other public facilities. The scientific community has provided exceptionally good data identifying the immunologic mechanisms responsible for disease causation, not only for chronic bronchitis, COPD and cardiovascular disease but also the neoplastic issues associated with tobacco. This has resulted in litigation by healthcare providers throughout the world against the tobacco industry.

The same issues are now arising with Ambient Air Pollution. The observational issues, which have been reported over the past 15 years, have now also had these observations elucidated by excellent science. We no longer have to wait the 40 to 50 years as was the case with tobacco. These issues include asthma and COPD, a tendency to recurrent pulmonary infections, but more worryingly premature deaths in adults and cancers in children. These include both non-specific cancers and leukemia. There is excellent research which has been published internationally identifying the mechanisms responsible for these illnesses These include;

The inhalation of Ambient Air Pollutants.

1. This includes diesel particles and other carbon-based particles, particularly of 2.5 μ diameter, all have major epigenetic outcomes which have significantly negative consequences. These immunologic issues can be measured after a mere two-hour exposure. The longer the exposure the worse the outcomes. These immunologic mechanisms can be measured in utero and appears to be particularly activated in the last 10 to 14 days of pregnancy. Unfortunately it appears that once these epigenetic changes occur, they are permanent but more importantly are transmitted to future generations.

2. It is not yet clear whether the increased leukemia and cancers in children originate in utero but certainly the mechanisms are in place. Though the “cancer corridor” extends approximately 250 to 300 m from the source of the pollution, the closer to the source the more intense the reaction. As mentioned above the major culprits of this epigenetic mechanism are diesel particles and other small molecules basically carbon particles and gasses from both diesel and gasoline engines. The concentration of these particles has been shown to increase at traffic lights, bus stops, and also anywhere where vehicles accelerate. This is particularly relevant in so far as Prior St. is concerned as public transportation involves diesel buses. In addition Prior St. carries a large volume of diesel trucks as well as gasoline and diesel automobiles.These significant emitters are approximately 15 m from the front of houses, but only 3 m from people waiting for transportation.

I should point out that the Prior St. “cancer corridor” involves not only the residential community, but also three nursing homes, two elementary schools, two community centers, a play school, and the community park containing recreational facilities which are frequently used by children, adolescents as well as adults. Various studies have identified this “cancer corridor” is particularly intense for approximate 90 m from the point of emission but extending up to 250 to 300 m as mentioned above.

As a physician, the major premise under which we practice is to do no harm. Similarly, a given, is that our elected officials should also do no harm. At the moment the European Community is challenging the UK government on this very issue.

One appreciates the steps taken in Vancouver by the council relating to cigarette smoke. The same standard should be taken for Ambient Air Pollution which is a particular problem on Prior Street. This possibly is the ”canary in the coal mine”.

I realize that this is a major issue for the city, however the future of many thousands of people is being impacted as we speak, unfortunately the negative outcomes will only become apparent in the years to come.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. M.A.J. Mandl, M.B.,B.S, M.Sc., F.R.C.P


More Prior Street health information

Note: traffic on Prior Street varies from 14,000 - 24,000 vehicle trips a day, including a good percentage of diesel particulate emitting busses and trucks


Key studies on air pollution and health effects near high-traffic areas

Compiled by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Sierra Club

Air pollution from busy roads linked to shorter life spans for nearby residents

Dutch researchers looked at the effects of long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollutants on 5,000 adults. They found that people who lived near a main road were almost twice as likely to die from heart or lung disease and 1.4 times as likely to die from any cause compared with those who lived in less-trafficked areas. Researchers say these results are similar to those seen in previous US studies on the effects of long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution. The authors say traffic emissions contain many pollutants that might be responsible for the health risks, such as ultrafine particles, diesel soot, and nitrogen oxides, which have been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory problems.


Hoek, Brunekreef, Goldbohn, Fischer, van den Brandt. (2002). Association between mortality and indicators of traffic-related air pollution in the Netherlands: a cohort study. Lancet, 360 (9341): 1203-9.

Truck traffic linked to childhood asthma hospitalizations

A study in Erie County, New York (excluding the city of Buffalo) found that children living in neighborhoods with heavy truck traffic within 200 meters of their homes had increased risks of asthma hospitalization. The study examined hospital admission for asthma amongst children ages 0-14, and residential proximity to roads with heavy traffic.


Lin, Munsie, Hwang, Fitzgerald, and Cayo. (2002). Childhood Asthma Hospitalization and Residential Exposure to State Route Traffic. Environmental Research, Section A, Vol. 88, pp. 73-81.

Pregnant women who live near high traffic areas more likely to have premature and low birth weight babies

Researchers observed an approximately 10-20% increase in the risk of premature birth and low birth weight for infants born to women living near high traffic areas in Los Angeles County. In particular, the researchers found that for each one part per million increase in annual average carbon monoxide concentrations where the women lived, there was a 19% and 11% increase in risk for low birth weight and premature births, respectively.


Wilhelm, Ritz. (2002). Residential Proximity to Traffic and Adverse Birth Outcomes in Los Angeles County, California, 1994-1996. Environmental Health Perspectives. doi: 10.1289/ehp.5688.

Traffic-related air pollution associated with respiratory symptoms in two year old children

This cohort study found that two year old children who are exposed to higher levels of traffic-related air pollution are more likely to have self-reported respiratory illnesses, including wheezing, ear/nose/throat infections, and reporting of physician-diagnosed asthma, flu or serious cold.


Brauer et al. (2002). Air Pollution from Traffic and the Development of Respiratory Infections and Asthmatic and Allergic Symptoms in Children. Am J Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Vol. 166 pp 1092-1098.

People who live near freeways exposed to 25 times more particle pollution

Studies conducted in the vicinity of Interstates 405 and 710 in Southern California found that the number of ultrafine particles in the air was approximately 25 times more concentrated near the freeways and that pollution levels gradually decrease back to normal (background) levels around 300 meters, or 990 feet, downwind from the freeway. The researchers note that motor vehicles are the most significant source of ultrafine particles, which have been linked to increases in mortality and morbidity. Recent research concludes that ultrafine particles are more toxic than larger particles with the same chemical composition. Moreover, the researchers found considerably higher concentrations of carbon monoxide pollution near the freeways.


Zhu, Hinds, Kim, Sioutas. Concentration and size distribution of ultrafine particles near a major highway. Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association. September 2002. Zhu, Hinds, Kim, Shen, Sioutas. Study of ultrafine particles near a major highway with heavy-duty diesel traffic. Atmospheric Environment. 36(2002), 4323-4335.

Asthma more common for children living near freeways.

A study of nearly 10,000 children in England found that wheezing illness, including asthma, was more likely with increasing proximity of a child's home to main roads. The risk was greatest for children living within 90 meters of the road.


Venn et al. (2001). Living Near A Main Road and the Risk of Wheezing Illness in Children. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Vol. 164, pp 2177-2180.

A study of 1,068 Dutch children found that asthma, wheeze, cough, and runny nose were significantly more common in children living within 100 meters of freeways. Increasing density of truck traffic was also associated with significantly higher asthma levels - particularly in girls.


van Vliet et al. (1997). Motor exhaust and chronic respiratory symptoms in children living near freeways. Environmental Research. 74:12-132.

Children living near busy roads more likely to develop cancer

A 2000 Denver study showed that children living within 250 yards of streets or highways with 20,000 vehicles per day are six times more likely to develop all types of cancer and eight times more likely to get leukemia. The study looked at associations between traffic density, power lines, and all childhood cancers with measurements obtained in 1979 and 1990. It found a weak association from power lines, but a strong association with highways. It suggested that benzene pollution might be the cancer promoter causing the problem.


Pearson et al. (2000). Distance-weighted traffic density in proximity to a home is a risk factor for leukemia and other childhood cancers. Journal of Air and Waste Management Association 50:175-180.

Most traffic-related deaths due to air pollution, not traffic accidents

Another study analyzed the affect of traffic-related air pollution and traffic accidents on life expectancy in the area of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. It estimated that 4,325 deaths in this region would result from motor vehicle emissions compared to 891 from traffic accidents (over a lifetime).


Szagun and Seidel. (2000). Mortality due to road traffic in Baden-Aurttemberg - air pollution, accidents, noise. Gesundheitswesen. 62(4): 225-33.

Emissions from motor vehicles dominate cancer risk

The most comprehensive study of urban toxic air pollution ever undertaken shows that motor vehicles and other mobile sources of air pollution are the predominant source of cancer-causing air pollutants in Southern California. Overall, the study showed that motor vehicles and other mobile sources accounted for about 90% of the cancer risk from toxic air pollution, most of which is from diesel soot (70% of the cancer risk). Industries and other stationary sources accounted for the remaining 10%. The study showed that the highest risk is in urban areas where there is heavy traffic and high concentrations of population and industry.


South Coast Air Quality Management District. Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study-II. March 2000.

Cancer risk higher near major sources of air pollution, including highways

A 1997 English study found a cancer corridor within three miles of highways, airports, power plants, and other major polluters. The study examined children who died of leukemia or other cancers from the years 1953-1980, where they were born and where they died. It found that the greatest danger lies a few hundred yards from the highway or pollution facility and decreases as you get away from the facility.


Knox and Gilman (1997). Hazard proximities of childhood cancers in Great Britain from 1953-1980. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 51: 151-159.

A school's proximity to freeways associated with asthma prevalence

A study of 1498 children in 13 schools in the Province of South Holland found a positive relationship between school proximity to freeways and asthma occurrence. Truck traffic intensity and the concentration of emissions measured in schools were found to be significantly associated with chronic respiratory symptoms.


Speizer, F. E. and B. G. Ferris, Jr. (1973). Exposure to automobile exhaust. I. Prevalence of respiratory symptoms and disease. Archives of Environmental Health. 26(6): 313-8. van Vliet, P., M. Knape, et al. (1997). Motor vehicle exhaust and chronic respiratory symptoms in children living near freeways. Environmental Research. 74(2): 122-32.

Lung function reduction among children more likely if living near truck traffic

A European study determined that exposure to traffic-related air pollution, 'in particular diesel exhaust particles,' may lead to reduced lung function in children living near major motorways.


Brunekreef B; Janssen NA; de Hartog J; Harssema H; Knape M; van Vliet P. (1997). “Air pollution from truck traffic and lung function in children living near motor-ways.” Epidemiology. 8(3):298-303.

Asthma symptoms caused by truck exhaust

A study was conducted in Munster, Germany to determine the relationship between truck traffic and asthma symptoms. In total, 3,703 German students, between the ages of 12-15 years, completed a written and video questionnaire in 1994-1995. Positive associations between both wheezing and allergic rhinitis and truck traffic were found during a 12 month period. Potentially confounding variables, including indicators of socio-economic status, smoking, etc., did not alter the associations substantially.


Duhme, H., S. K. Weiland, et al. (1996). The association between self-reported symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis and self-reported traffic density on street of residence in adolescents. Epidemiology 7(6): 578-82.

Proximity of a child's residence to major roads linked to hospital admissions for asthma

A study in Birmingham, United Kingdom, determined that living near major roads was associated with the risk of hospital admission for asthma in children younger than 5 years of age. The area of residence and traffic flow patterns were compared for children admitted to the hospital for asthma, children admitted for nonrespiratory reasons, and a random sample of children from the community. Children admitted with an asthma diagnosis were significantly more likely to live in an area with high traffic flow (> 24,000 vehicles/ 24 hours) located along the nearest segment of main road than were children admitted for nonrespiratory reasons or children form the community.


Edwards, J., S. Walters, et al. (1994). Hospital admissions for asthma in preschool children: relationship to major roads in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Archives of Environmental Health. 49(4): 223-7.

Exposure to carcinogenic benzene higher for children living near high traffic areas

German researchers compared forty-eight children who lived in a central urban area with high traffic density with seventy-two children who lived in a small city with low traffic density. They found that the blood levels of benzene in children who lived in the high-traffic-density area were 71% higher than those of children who lived in the low-traffic-density area. Blood levels of toluene and carboxyhemoglobin (formed after breathing carbon monoxide) were also significantly elevated (56% and 33% higher, respectively) among children regularly exposed to vehicle emissions. Aplastic anemia and leukemia are associated with excessive exposure to benzene.


Jermann E, Hajimiragha H, Brockhaus A, Freier I, Ewers U, Roscovanu A: Exposure of children to benzene and other motor vehicle emissions. Zentralblatt fur Hygiene und Umweltmedizin 189:50-61, 1989.