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Near roadway vehicle emissions, such as particulate matter (PM), nitrous oxides, and other contaminants, are major sources of air pollution, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.1 Chronic air and noise pollution exposures can also negatively influence cognitive function and student learning. Of greatest concern are concentrations within 500 feet of high traffic street edges, but concentrations can be harmful at distances up to 1320 ft.2 Vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, or those with impaired health are likely to suffer the greatest impacts. In 2003, the California legislature passed SB 352, prohibiting building new schools within 500 ft of high traffic roadways. However, SB 352 does not address what action should be taken to reduce the health risks for children at school sites already near high traffic roadways, and the Bill acknowledges that a disproportionate amount of low income students attend such schools. A recent report found that nationwide more than 8000 public schools or about one in every 11 public schools, serving roughly 4.4 million students is located within 500 ft. of a road with more than 30,000 vehicles per day, or at least 10,000 cars and 500 trucks per day. Many more head start and private schools are also exposed.3 An earlier study, found that 13.5% of students attended schools within 820 ft of a major roadway, concluding that minority and underprivileged children were disproportionately affected, although some results varied regionally.4

To better understand pollution patterns, environmental justice issues, and the community responses in Santa Clara County (SCC), we started field research in the Greater Washington Neighborhood of San Jose, CA. We started here because of the proximity of schools to high traffic roadways, and the support that Thriving Neighbors Initiative offered through partnerships with Washington Elementary School (WES) and a network of promotoras that are improving their community and interested in a community-based research.


Environmental Justice and Common Good Conference.

May 2019.

Santa Clara University.



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