It’s no secret that driving during rush hour can damage our health, but it seems it’s even more dangerous than we thought.
The first in-car measurements of exposure to pollutants that cause oxidative stress have turned up some alarming results. In fact, the levels of some forms of harmful particulate matter inside cars was found to be twice as high as previously believed.
Most traffic pollution sensors are placed on the ground alongside the road and take continuous samples for a 24-hour period. Exhaust composition, however, changes rapidly, even in the space of just a few feet. It means that drivers can experience different conditions inside their vehicles than these roadside sensors. And these conditions, in turn, can be affected by things like road congestion and environmental conditions. For instance, morning sun heats the roadways, which causes an updraft that brings more pollution higher into the air.
To explore what drivers are actually exposed to during rush hour, researchers from Duke University, Emory University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology strapped specially designed sampling devices into the passenger seats of cars during morning rush hour commutes in downtown Atlanta.
The devices detected up to twice as much particulate matter as the roadside sensors. The team also found that the pollution contained twice the amount of chemicals that cause oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in the development of 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.
According to Michael Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke, commuters should seriously rethink their driving habits.
“We found that people are likely getting a double whammy of exposure [to traffic pollution] in terms of health during rush-hour commutes. There’s still a lot of debate about what types of pollution are cause for the biggest concern and what makes them so dangerous. But the bottom line is that driving during rush hour is even worse than we thought.”
Source: Duke University