After learning that travelling on the London underground exposes commuters to high levels of toxic air particles, no one could blame you for wanting to drive to work instead.
But now a new study has shown that the pollution your car churns out isn’t just a problem for people walking outside, but is twice as dangerous for drivers and those inside the car as previously believed.
Professor Michael Bergin, said: “The bottom line is that driving during rush hour is even worse than we thought...we found that people are likely getting a double whammy of exposure in terms of health during rush-hour commutes.”
Studies into traffic pollution usually rely on data from sensors placed at the side of the road, but in the first in-car study, the team from Duke University have reached some surprising conclusions.
Placing sensors, which ‘breathe’ in air at a similar rate to human lungs, on the passenger seat in more than 30 cars, they found that harmful particulate matter is present in the cabin during morning rush hour at double the quantity found at the roadside.
Heidi Vreeland, first author of the paper, said: “There are a lot of reasons an in-car air sample would find higher levels of certain kinds of air pollution. The chemical composition of exhaust changes very quickly, even in the space of just a few feet.”
Some cars had their windows opened, others had air conditioning systems, Vreeland said: “[The] morning sun heats the roadways, which causes an updraft that brings more pollution higher into the air.”
The length of time spent on motorways, in metro areas, and sitting in traffic jams, also varied between each driver’s individual journey.
The problem with having these pollutants present in the air is that they induce oxidative stress in the body, a process which triggers an overreaction and production of chemicals that can be destructive to healthy cells and DNA.
They are also thought to be involved in the development of certain diseases such as Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure and heart attack, sickle cell disease, autism, infection, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
Bergin said: “If these chemicals are as bad for people as many researchers believe, then commuters should seriously be rethinking their driving habits.”
Earlier this month HuffPost UK reported that commuters who travel regularly on the London Underground are breathing in around 12 million toxic ‘nanodust’ particles every single minute, according to figures released by Transport for London.
The tiny particles comprised mostly of iron oxide are generated by the train’s wheels as they interact with the rails and are small enough to directly enter organs and even the brain.