You may want or need to consider a face mask if cycling in the city.
It may seem like common-sense to think that an individual living in the city is more likely to suffer from the effects of air pollution than someone in the country. However it may surprise you to discover that choosing to cycle in the city will certainly not make this negative aspect of city life any better. Research led by Professor Jonathan Grigg at Queen Mary, University of London has shown that levels of black carbon found in the lungs of London cyclists are considerably higher than that of other city dwellers.
Soot is the product of burning organic substances, and is an impure form of carbon. It has played a part in the poor health of city folk since cities came into existence but it has only been since the advent of industry that this form of air pollution has become a real issue. Inhalation of soot is associated with general issues of poor lung health. This can include inefficient lung performance and lung cancer. It can also have generalised effects such as heart problems.
Grigg's research began with the hypothesis that cyclists are exposed to more black carbon than other commuters. They took ten healthy non-smokers; five cyclists and five pedestrians, and took sputum samples for analysis. Unfortunately for bike-loving commuters, the research supported their hypothesis.
Although there were relatively few participants in the study, the results found that riding to work is likely to give you an intake of 230% of that found when walking.
The reasons for the dramatic difference were not identified, although a number of contributing factors were suggested. In particular, the inhalation of car exhaust fumes while cycling is likely to involve quicker, deeper breaths. A pedestrian is also likely to be walking at a greater distance from motor vehicles. These two points could explain the difference but need further study.
Another area that may require study is whether these findings can be connected to any difference in health. This study only focused on black carbon volumes and not the health impact. We will need to wait and see if a connection can be made.
Top Image Credit: Cycle lane in Central London © Kated