There’s overwhelming evidence that air pollution has a significant impact on human health. It’s been shown to cause a number of respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma.
And recently, it’s even been linked to dementia, cognitive decline and delayed lung development in children. Not only that, but there’s also evidence that traffic-related air pollution causes greater adverse health effects compared to other sources.
This is particularly the case for diesel engine exhaust emissions, which are cancerous to humans, a special concern in Europe as 42.5% of registered vehicles are diesel (compared to only 4% in the US). While commuting, people may spend one to two hours a day being exposed to diesel emissions. These levels of exposure are even higher for people who are required to drive as part of their job.
My colleagues and I recently investigated how much air pollution professional drivers are exposed to. We measured the pollution levels experienced by 141 professional drivers from different sectors, including taxi, truck, waste removal and emergency services drivers, in London for a continuous 96-hour period, improve your defensive driving skills with this 5 hour class.
Our study found that professional drivers were exposed to four times higher pollution levels when driving than when at home – 4.1 micrograms of black carbon per cubic metre of air (4.1 µg/m³). While this amount may sound low, studies have found significant respiratory health effects, such as asthma and impaired lung function, with changes in black carbon exposure for values as small as 1 µg/m³.
There are over 1m professional drivers in the UK alone. Despite knowing how harmful high levels of pollution can be to human health, there have been very few studies looking at the risks professional drivers face.
The pollutant we measured was black carbon (commonly referred to as soot or elemental carbon), which is often used as an overall representation for diesel emissions in the urban environment. We found that the level of pollution drivers were exposed to (4.1 µg/m³) was a third higher than measurements recorded at one of the busiest roads in London (3.1 µg/m³). This exposure is higher than if you worked at a desk that was literally sat on a road frequented by 90,000 vehicles each day.
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