Fellows in the News

If anyone knows where to find refuge from air pollution near Los Angeles freeways, it’s Suzanne Paulson.

The UCLA atmospheric chemistry professor has spent years studying how invisible plumes of dirty air from car- and truck-choked roadways spread into surrounding neighborhoods — increasing residents’ risk of cancer, asthma, heart disease and other illnesses.

So when she bought a home in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in 2007, she made sure it was on a quiet street far from the 10 Freeway — well beyond the 500-foot zone where California air quality regulators say it’s unhealthful to put homes, schools and day cares.

But it wasn’t far enough.

In the late night and early morning, it turns out, traffic pollution drifts much farther than during the day, and can extend more than a mile downwind from the freeway.

That discovery, made by Paulson and her colleagues, is one example of new research revealing how much your exposure to harmful levels of vehicle pollution is affected by your specific surroundings. It’s not only your distance from traffic, but other details such as wind patterns, freeway design, the time of day and the types of cars, trucks and buildings around you that determine the risk.

“We’re learning that the pollution you breathe comes down to where you are, when you’re there and what the traffic is like,” Paulson said.

Such findings are prompting new advice from air quality officials and scientists on steps you can take to protect yourself.

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