BACKGROUND: Epidemiologic studies have linked exposure to traffic-generated air and noise pollution with a wide range of adverse health effects in children. Children spend a large portion of time at school, and both air pollution and noise are elevated in close proximity to roads, so school location may be an important determinant of exposure. No studies have yet examined the proximity of schools to major roads in Canadian cities.
METHODS: Data on public elementary schools in Canada's 10 most populous cities were obtained from online databases. School addresses were geocoded and proximity to the nearest major road, defined using a standardized national road classification scheme, was calculated for each school. Based on measurements of nitrogen oxide concentrations, ultrafine particle counts, and noise levels in three Canadian cities we conservatively defined distances < 75 m from major roads as the zone of primary interest. Census data at the city and neighborhood levels were used to evaluate relationships between school proximity to major roads, urban density, and indicators of socioeconomic status.
RESULTS: Addresses were obtained for 1,556 public elementary schools, 95% of which were successfully geocoded. Across all 10 cities, 16.3% of schools were located within 75 m of a major road, with wide variability between cities. Schools in neighborhoods with higher median income were less likely to be near major roads (OR per $20,000 increase: 0.81; 95% CI: 0.65, 1.00), while schools in densely populated neighborhoods were more frequently close to major roads (OR per 1,000 dwellings/km²: 1.07; 95% CI: 1.00, 1.16). Over 22% of schools in the lowest neighborhood income quintile were close to major roads, compared to 13% of schools in the highest income quintile.
CONCLUSIONS: A substantial fraction of students at public elementary schools in Canada, particularly students attending schools in low income neighborhoods, may be exposed to elevated levels of air pollution and noise while at school. As a result, the locations of schools may negatively impact the healthy development and academic performance of a large number of Canadian children.
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