NPR Story
4:42 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Hazard Crossing: Researchers Assess Health Impacts of Long Border Waits

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 10:41 am

SAN DIEGO — People who regularly cross the United States-Mexico border know waiting for hours on foot can be hot, uncomfortable, even exhausting.

Penelope Quintana, a researcher at San Diego State University, says it's made worse by "not being able to sit down, not having restrooms, not having water available."

But she says beyond inconvenience, waiting to cross the border is also bad for your health. It's something researchers have recently been getting a better handle on.

Quintana and colleagues have been exploring how emissions from thousands of idling cars affect surrounding communities, the people in the cars themselves, and the pedestrians waiting to cross the border just steps away from those cars.

Quintana just published a summary of researchers' and community groups' findings, which were presented at a recent conference in San Diego.

One researcher studied the levels of pollutants absorbed by the bodies of people waiting in line to cross the border.

"People who were standing in line had higher metabolites of this nitropyrene found in diesel exhaust in their urine than people who didn't cross the border," Quintana said.

Exposure to such pollutants has been associated with worsening respiratory diseases like asthma and other chronic illnesses. It's just one of many findings that Quintana's paper illuminates about the potential health hazards of having to wait hours a day to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Quintana hopes the research influences future designs for border crossing infrastructure and border communities — like the construction of buffers between vehicular and pedestrian crossing lines, or the reduction of border wait times to minimize idling time.

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