Starting next month, local environmental activists will be joining up with Tufts University researchers for a study on the effect of air pollution floating into communities situated next to and near the I-93 expressway.
The year-long study, called the Community Assessment of Freeway and Health Study, will include the Columbia/Savin Hill area, including those living on Columbia Rd. and Savin Hill Ave., and east of Dorchester Ave., and the St. Mark’s area, which includes between Dorchester Ave. and Adams St., and Dix St. to Wrentham St.
The study will attempt to assess the association between exposure to traffic-related air pollution from the expressway, used by hundreds of thousands of people every day, and cardiac health. “It’s not just the air quality,” said Rosanne Foley, director of the Dorchester Environmental Health Coalition. “It’s the impacts on people’s health.”
The group has already attempted to pick out some air pollution hot spots to aid the study. Residents, picked at random by street address, who participate in the survey will be given a gift card to a local grocery store. Researchers will also be asking for a blood sample and blood pressure measurements in order to see the risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
“I hope people see this as a good opportunity to get some nice solid research data so we can use it to do some advocacy if need be around air quality,” Foley said.
Funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the study is also including the effects on residents living in Somerville, South Boston, and Chinatown along I-93 and the Mass Pike.
The coalition of groups involved in the project include the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP), the Committee for Boston Public Housing, the Chinatown Progressive Association, and the Chinatown Residents Association in collaboration with the Tufts University Schools of Medicine and Engineering.
Researchers estimate 11 percent of U.S. households are located within 100 meters of four-lane highways. And the exhaust from cars is considered a large source of air pollution. “The most susceptible (and overlooked) population in the US subject to serious health effects from air pollution may be those who live very near major regional transportation route, especially highways,” researchers wrote in a related 2007 study. “Policies that have been technology based and regional in orientation do not efficiently address the very large exposure and health gradients suffered by these populations.”
Local residents said they welcomed the study. “I’m very interested in hearing what the researchers are proposing and to make sure they are studying the areas of Dorchester that the prevailing winds will take the pollutants to,” said Bill Walczak, who lives in Savin Hill and runs the Codman Square Health Center.
Walczak said the winds carry the pollutants right into Savin Hill. And part of that is because the completion of the Big Dig project has brought a traffic bottleneck on the expressway in the mornings and evenings, he argued.
“You see this huge line-up of cars all along Savin Hill,” he said, adding, “We should have demanded that they put up pollution monitors as part of the Big Dig.” Walczak said he hopes the study could lead to the installation of sound barriers that the neighborhood was promised by the state over a dozen years ago.
State Rep. Marty Walsh, who represents Dorchester on Beacon Hill and lives in Savin Hill, said he’s also interested in the study’s findings. “Because some of those folks have lived there for a long time,” he said. “The houses were there before the highway.” He added: “I’m assuming it’s going to come back bad. The traffic on the expressway is extremely heavy.”
Researchers also plan to put in an appearance at the Dorchester Beach Festival on August 14.