Cue my self-righteous indignation. The next time I hear someone carping about “elites” wanting to minimize highway-building, I’m going to remind them that highways are a direct threat—not just who use them, but even to those who live near them.

In a first-rate article in the Seattle P-I today:

Residents of a broad swath of South Seattle from Seward Park to West Seattle face elevated cancer risks because of air pollution, according to a soon-to-be released government study.

The risks are significantly elevated in pockets of industrial pollution—and skyrocket within about 200 yards of highways, says the long-awaited study by state and federal scientists.


The risk is far higher.. in South Seattle areas next to highways, the study found. Those places can be expected to produce as many as 3,600 cancer cases per million people exposed over a 70-year lifetime.

For context, when the risk exceeds 1 per million, environmental agencies have typically acted to reduce the risk. So 3,600 is a scary figure. Check out this map:

 seattle cancer

This particular study was just for south Seattle, but some of the findings can probably be generalized. Those bright-red high risk corridors along highways are likely to be just as problematic in north Seattle, not to mention Portland and Vancouver, as well as in wealthy suburbs and poorer enclaves, and so on. Highways generate tremendous amounts of dangerous pollution.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine that folks who live within 200 yards of a highway have lower average incomes than those who live farther away. So highways aren’t really a problem for elites as much as they’re a problem created by elites—and dumped right into the laps of the poor.