Car Pollution

Car Pollution

Think of those hours some of us spend in our car driving back and forth to work each day. Just being behind that wheel for such a number of hours each week is a risk. Some of the additional problems we might face from being inactive for that amount of time could include cardiovascular disease, problems with weight, type 2 diabetes and poor fitness. Not only might your inactivity in the car raise your risk, but according to a recent study published in Environmental Science Processes and Impacts, researchers reveal how dangerous it is to ride in your car through heavy traffic.

While driving in your car you are actually exposed to more air pollution while stuck in traffic, than you are walking down the crowded streets with cars waiting for traffic lights. When you are stopped at a red light, the pollution in your car is 40 times greater than when the traffic is moving. The original study focused on evaluating the ventilation systems of the cars based on measurements of particulate matter in the car, during different driving conditions. It was discovered the levels of air pollution were significantly different for small and large particulate matter. The ventilation of the cars that tested more efficiently, cleaned the incoming air of coarse or large particulate matter, but allowed small particulate matter to slip into the car.

In 2014 another study was conducted evaluating the air pollution in five cars traveling through London. Five members of parliament received technology to measure air pollution in their cars or taxis as they went about their daily business. Riding in a taxi through London exposed the individual to air pollution up to 15 times higher than walking or cycling through the same area.

The University of Southern California also conducted a study that found similar results. Those long commutes of an hour per day, may double your exposure to air pollution when the settings in your car are not properly set. There are 9 cities where you might spend more time in traffic, breathing small and large particle air pollution. The cities and time spent in the car are: Chicago (60 Hours), Boston (64 Hours), Seattle (66 Hours), New York (73 Hours), Houston (74 Hours), San Francisco (75 Hours), Washington (75 Hours) and Los Angeles (81 Hours). These are the amounts spent in the car each year, but not the number of miles traveled.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database found that when behind the wheel of your car for hours each month, more than 80% of people living in urban areas were exposed to air quality levels exceeding the WHO limits. Particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the more common pollutants emitted by motor vehicles. The largest single source of air pollution in the US comes from motor vehicles. Nitrogen oxide pollution alone may kill up to 23,500 people a year in the U.K. According to Public Health England, just over 3,300 people lost their lives as a result of air pollution.

Air pollution damages more than just your lungs. For a complete list of other medical conditions you are subjected to from pollution can be viewed by going to There are also tips on what you might experience after a single exposure, and reactions may appear similar to a cold or allergic reaction.

Protect yourself by rolling up the windows and recirculating the air when you are in heavy traffic or stopping frequently at red lights. In newer and more airtight cars you may experience a build-up of carbon dioxide. Pulling outside air in for one to two minutes every 10 to 15 minutes to facilitate air exchange is advised, especially if there are two or more people in the car. Heed these warnings if you are one of those on the road in your car for many hours a week, and in heavy traffic.

-Dr Fredda Branyon

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