Regulators warned against housing near freeways due to health risks. Now they're warming to it

Twelve years ago, California air quality officials delivered a warning to cities and counties: Avoid putting new homes in high-pollution zones within 500 feet of freeways.

That advice, which relied on years of research linking traffic pollution to asthma, heart attacks and other health problems, was aimed at keeping “children and other vulnerable populations out of harm’s way,” according to the state Air Resources Board’s 2005 handbook.

But earlier this year, the air board shifted its stance. It issued a new advisory that emphasizes design rather than distance, recommending anti-pollution features such as air filters, sound walls and thick vegetation as “promising strategies” to reduce the health risks from freeways. With those measures, communities can build “while simultaneously reducing exposure to traffic-related pollution,” the air board said.

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