Frequent Los Angeles runners learn to understand where and when not to run. Heavy traffic, busy streets, and lack of green spaces influence the choices these runners make. Thanks to the Los Angeles Revitalization initiative, thousands of Angelinos, including myself, now have access to long and extensive bike lanes and walking paths along the river to enjoy their physical activities.
One concern however, which has not been adequately raised, is what are the long-term health consequences for these fast breathing athletes whom are exposed to the pollutants emitted by the motor vehicle exhausts in the 5 Freeway only a couple hundred feet away from the river.
After decades of taming the 51-mile long river with cement encasing for flood control purposes, environmental organizations like the Friends of the Los Angeles River and other environmentalists made the change possible (Gumprecht, 1997). After 1997, the City of Los Angeles released its first plan to create the green spaces we now see along the LA River.
The LA River Revitalization Master Plan Vision is working under four principles: revitalize the river, green the neighborhoods, capture community opportunities, and create value. The bicycle lanes and walking/running paths support the initiative's principles; however, less attention has been given to the risks Angelinos take when they exercise next to this air-polluting freeway.
According to Brugge et al. (2007), there is evidence that "freshly-emitted air pollutants downwind from major highways, motorways, and freeways that include ultrafine particles (UFP), black carbon (BC), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO)."
Exposure to these pollutants creates long-term cardiac and pulmonary health risks. Athletes are highly susceptible to these risks, describes Dr. Kenneth Rundell, the director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and says, "Athletes typically take in 10 to 20 times as much air." (Reynolds, 2007). These pollutants bypass the body's first line of defense, the nasal hairs, and cause irritation and inflammation while even tinier particles migrate into the bloodstream (Reynolds, 2007).
The LA River Revitalization initiative is a positive step toward remediating decades of inadequate environmental protection and decision-making. The river is reviving wildlife and its neighboring communities, but failure to note possible long-term health consequences athletes face next to a highly trafficked freeway is alarming.
More epidemiological studies are highly recommended, but until then, this is not to scare Angelinos from physical activities, yet simply another incentive to leave your car at home, pick up your bike, and go!
- Brugge, Doug, Durant, John, and Rioux, Christine. 2007. "Near-highway pollutants in motor vehicle exhaust: A review of epidemiologic evidence of cardiac and pulmonary health risk." Environmental Health. (6:23), 1-12.
- City of Los Angeles. (2012). "Los Angeles River Revitalization: Vision." <boe.lacity.org/lariverrmp/CommunityOutreach/pdf/03Chapter2-Vision...
- Gumprecht, B. (1997). "51 Miles of Concrete: The Exploitation and Transformation of the Los Angeles River." Southern California Quarterly, (4), 431-486.
- Reynolds, Gretchen. July 12, 2007. "Air Pollution Holds Risks for Athletes who Exercise Outdoors." New York Times. <www.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/health/12iht-air.1.6628800.html?_r=0>