Driving is Dangerous Due to Pollution

It’s not just accidents that put you in harm’s way when you get in your car, it’s also the toxic fumes from your car and others (especially diesel trucks) you breathe while driving. For those of us who drive little, it is reassuring to find out that we are not exposing ourselves unduly to this health hazard. But for people who drive for a living, or whose work depends on driving a good portion of the day, this news is probably quite distressing. From Livescience:

Driving is more hazardous than anyone knew: A heavy commuter inhales more pollution while driving than in the entire rest of the day, a new study finds.

The research was done in Los Angeles, where the average driver spends 1.5 hours behind the wheel. That time in traffic accounts for 33 to 45 percent of total exposure to diesel and ultrafine particles (UFP), the study showed.

On freeways, diesel-fueled trucks are the source of the highest concentrations of harmful pollutants.

“If you have otherwise healthy habits and don’t smoke, driving to work is probably the most unhealthy part of your day,” said Scott Fruin, assistant professor of environmental health at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California. “Urban dwellers with long commutes are probably getting most of their UFP exposure while driving.”

Ultrafine particles are of particular concern because, unlike larger particles, they can penetrate cell walls and disperse throughout the body, Fruin said. Particulate matter has been linked to cardiovascular disease, but the ultrafine fraction on roadways appears to be more toxic than larger sizes.

Previous research found children on school buses breathe more pollution. And a study in London found people in taxis, buses, and cars all inhale substantially more pollution than cyclists and pedestrians. [full text]