Reuters/Tony Melville

London bike commuters found to breathe in more soot than pedestrians

If you bike to work, you’ve probably got pretty nice thighs. Your lungs, though, may not be in such great shape.

New research has found that bicycle commuters inhale more than twice the amount of black carbon particles as pedestrians making a comparable trip. That healthy bike ride to and from work might be getting you out of a car, but it’s not getting you out of the way of the automobile emissions.

The study, led by Professor Jonathan Grigg from Barts and the London School of Medicine, looked at bicycle and pedestrian commuters in London to determine whether different modes of travel exposed commuters to higher levels of black carbon. By comparing levels of carbon in the lungs of five healthy bicycle commuters to the levels of five healthy pedestrian commuters, the researchers found a large disparity. The bicycle commuters had 2.3 times more black carbon in their lungs. They claim that the probability of this happening by chance is less than one percent.

Fuel-combustion creates this black carbon, or soot, which can be inhaled and which persists in the lungs, creating potential health risks. Following on the hypothesis that bicycle commuters’ heavier breathing would expose them to more of the particulate pollutants created by fuel-burning traffic, the researchers were relatively unsurprised by their results, which were presented at this weekend's European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress.

“Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes,” said Dr. Chinedu Nwokoro, one of the researchers in the study and an active cyclist. “Whether cycling by healthy individuals is in itself associated with adverse health effects is currently being assessed in a larger ongoing study.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks

    The “Vessel” at New York’s Hudson Yards—like so many of his designs—look as if the dystopian world of 1984 has been given a precious makeover.

  2. Life

    Think You’re Faster Than the D.C. Streetcar? Think Again.

    Streetcars without dedicated lanes tend to be on the slow side. But beating this much-maligned public transportation mode on foot wasn’t as easy as it looks.

  3. Transportation

    China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare

    What happens when a checkpoint merges 50 lanes down to 20.

  4. A photo of a police officer guarding the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal.
    Perspective

    The Troubling Limits of the 'Great Crime Decline'

    The fall of urban violence since the 1990s was a public health breakthrough, as NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey says in his book Uneasy Peace. But we must go further.

  5. Life

    Old Stone Walls Reveal How Earth’s Magnetic North Changes Over Time

    The orientations of the stone walls that crisscross the Northeastern U.S. can tell a geomagnetic tale as well as a historical one.