Are You Safe Inside Your Car? In-car Pollution Can Be Twice More Dangerous Than Previously Thought

Air pollution is bad anyway, both indoor and outdoor, but scientists are warning that it’s even worse inside your car. According to a new study that was performed as part of the Atlanta Commuter Exposures (ACE) Study, in-car air pollution (PM2.5 in particular) can be up to twice as high as previously believed.

“We found that people are likely getting a double whammy of exposure in terms of health during rush-hour commutes,” said Michael Bergin, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, in Durham, N.C.

Many previous studies relied upon measurements taken from traffic pollution sensors placed on the ground alongside the road. To explore what drivers are actually exposed to during rush hours, Mr. Bergin and his colleagues installed the sensors inside about 30 different cars going to and from downtown Atlanta. Over the 60 commutes, they found that levels of some forms of harmful particulate matter in the cars were twice as high as levels detected by widely used roadside sensors.

“There are a lot of reasons an in-car air sample would find higher levels of certain kinds of air pollution,” said Heidi Vreeland, a doctoral student in Bergin’s lab and first author of the paper. “The chemical composition of exhaust changes very quickly, even in the space of just a few feet. And morning sun heats the roadways, which causes an updraft that brings more pollution higher into the air.”

The effects of air pollution, largely caused by car emissions, are significant for people living in urban areas. Most damaging and harmful air pollution is to young children, due to their higher minute ventilation, immature immune system and the continuing development of their lungs during the early post-neonatal period.

While you stuck in traffic jams, or at red traffic lights with other vehicles stationary in front, the levels of pollution inside your car is the highest. One of the ways to reduce exposure to pollutants is to turn off the fan  – or turn the fan on recirculating – and close the windows. The windows-closed-fan-off combination can reduce exposure to particulate matter, but overall, it still will not solve the problem.

“Children sitting in the back seat of vehicles are likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution,” says David King, who works for the British Lung Foundation. “You may be driving a cleaner vehicle but your children are sitting in a box collecting toxic gases from all the vehicles around you. The best thing for all our health is to leave our cars behind.”

Picture: Flickr/sean dreilinger

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 80 percent of people are living in urban areas where air quality levels are above standards that are considered healthy. Governments of different nations are now focusing on switching from diesel and petrol vehicles to electric, but the most efficient way to reduce air pollution is encouraging more people to ride a bicycle instead of driving a car. Switching from cars to bikes would not only reduce air pollution but also motivate greater physical activity, which in turn can improve your health and well-being.

1 reply
  1. K Daley
    K Daley says:

    It is good to see people take the time to spell out the problem or issue, followed by providing valuable direction as to how to dela with it. Thank You


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