In June 2019 researchers from Germany and the USA published the results of their air pollution study to assess the concentration of particulate matter in different situations. Air pollution is a global challenge that causes millions of premature deaths annually and cities struggle to meet air quality guidelines to adequately protect human health. An individual’s total exposure to air pollution is often disproportionately affected by the relatively short amount of time spent commuting or in the proximity of traffic. A total of 18 bicycle journies were videoed, air pollution levels measured, and a method developed to allow comparison of variations in particulate matter exposure per journey. Results showed large differences in localized air pollution levels when factors such as street type, environmental surroundings, and vehicle type were taken into account. When compared to the average air pollution the individual was exposed to during the entire journey, the occurrence of one or more non-passenger car vehicles, including buses, mopeds, or trucks, increased the air pollution exposure by 30-40%, whilst high traffic situations, like traffic jams, increased the exposure rate by 47% and waiting at traffic lights by 35%. Cycling in residential neighbourhoods was seen to decrease the average exposure rate by 17% whilst cycling through green spaces or parks decreased the individual’s average exposure by 22%. The researchers concluded by stating that such information is valuable not only for individuals who want to reduce their air pollution exposure when moving through a city, but also for policy makers and urban planners so that they are better able to reduce exposure and better protect human health, while progress is made to reduce air pollution levels overall.
von Schneidemesser E et al. Air pollution at human scales in an urban environment: Impact of local environment and vehicles on particle number concentrations. Sci Total Environ. 2019 Jun 20;688:691-700