A recent air quality study in Boston has revealed that what you don’t know about breathing vehicle exhaust can hurt you.

Conducted by Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health, the study found those living within 1,500 feet of a highway have greater likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease than those living twice as far away.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 45 million Americans live within 900 feet of a major road, and well within the higher risk zone from emitted microscopic metals and chemicals from gas and diesel engines.

Also discovered by the research was residents within 1,500 feet of a highway were likely to have 14-percent more C-reactive protein in their blood than those who lived more than a half-mile away. This protein can lead to increased likelihood of a stroke or heart attack.

The implications come as government regulators and health authorities are already working to mitigate vehicle exhaust of greenhouse gases, and the new evidence of ultrafine particles has prompted the study’s authors to urge policymakers to do more.

“We need to start finding ways to reduce exposure of ultrafine particles, especially near homes, schools, parks, and playgrounds,” said Doug Brugge, one of the researchers and a professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine. “It’s important to note that ultrafine particles are not regulated.”

For those living or working nearby, defensive measures can include keeping windows closed and installation of advanced air filtration systems. Highway officials are also considering the installation of decking over highways to reduce the fallout.

Health officials interviewed by the Boston Globe also urged drivers to not go solo, or to commute by bike or low-emission vehicles.

“We’re concerned about any evidence that shows increased links between air pollution and health problems,” said Carl Spector, commissioner of the city’s Environment Department.

Electric cars of course are the most ideal solution with no tailpipe emissions. Unlike increasingly popular gasoline direct-injection engines which can create emissions mimicking in ways those of diesel engines, their emissions are off site at a power plant.

This is mainly true for passenger vehicles however, and not as much heavy trucks, though there are inroads slowly being made with plug-in inner city vehicles including delivery trucks and buses.

Last year the U.S. purchased just 43,000 plug-in hybrids and 71,000 battery electric cars out of 17.4 million passenger vehicles, so on this score there is work to do.

Meanwhile, those within range of busy roads will want to take care.

Boston Globe