Reducing Exposure to Pollutants While Driving to Work

Source: Vadim Guzhva/123RF

With climate change and pollution a heated topic of discussion today, individuals can reduce their exposure to pollution while driving to work, to the store, or on any other outing, simply by closing their windows or changing route.

That is according to a study by scientists at the University of Birmingham, England, published in the journal of Atmospheric Environment.

Particulate matter in the air affects humans’ respiratory and physical health, and scientists say it can put people at higher risk of severe cases of COVID-19 by exacerbating respiratory systems. Pollution can also affect people’s lung health and susceptibility to pulmonary disease.

The study found that if vehicle ventilation is set correctly—drivers and passengers are exposed to up to 49 percent less P2.5 and 34 percent less Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) than the on-road levels.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Vasileios Matthaios commented: “Exposure to air pollution within the vehicle depends upon both the ventilation setting and the type of route. The lowest exposure to particles and gases is when the windows are closed with recirculation and air conditioning switched on.

“Drivers and passengers inhale more air pollution when traveling on urban roads, followed by ring-roads and sub-urban roads. However, because concentrations inside a vehicle are lower and occupants are not as active, they inhale less air pollution than people cycling or walking on the same routes.”

Outdoor air pollution is estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths in Britain annually and an estimated 7 million deaths globally—linked to diseases ranging from lung cancer to stroke and respiratory infection.

OH&S reports that researchers noted that related health issues depend on an individual’s exposure to air pollution and the vulnerability of the individual to a given dose.

This, in turn, depends on route selection, time of day, transport type, respiration rate, and, in the case of vehicles, ventilation options and efficacy, and type of cabin filters.