New Study Finds Air Pollution During Rush Hour Traffic To Be Worse Than Originally Thought

Jul 28, 2017

In a recently published study, researchers at Georgia Tech, Emory and Duke examined pollution levels drivers are exposed to inside their vehicles during rush hour in Atlanta. Counter to their expectations, researchers found that drivers are exposed to a significant amount of dangerous pollutants during those times.

Traffic pollution sensors are normally placed on the ground alongside the road and are unable to take samples of the pollution inside vehicles. In this year-long experiment, sensors were placed inside vehicles. Researchers discovered that the air inside the cars had as much as twice the amount of particulate matter than the sensors on the road as well as twice the amount of pollutants that cause oxidative stress.   

These particles, which consist of break pad residue and emissions from others cars, can cause respiratory, neurological and reproductive issues as well as cause problems for people with preexisting conditions such as asthma. Oxidative stress can lead to many chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammation, stroke, septic shock, and other degenerative diseases.

The fixed routes taken by the drivers.
Credit Heidi Vreeland / Duke University

The researchers conducted the experiment by placing a sampling tray of different devices in the passenger’s seat. Driving on fixed routes, 60 people in their personal vehicles took two drives, one on the highway and the other on a side street during rush hour traffic from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The researchers were surprised after they analyzed the filters in the sampling tray.

“The particles that come into your car that you breath in, in the morning which are a lot of emissions from other cars around you, that those particles had higher, they were more dangerous than we expected,” said Heidi Vreeland, a Duke Graduate Research Assistant who worked on the study.

Vreeland hopes that this study gets people to think about driving less and consider using public transit.

“I don’t think this should be scary to people, I just think that it should maybe think more about driving less,” said Vreeland.