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Sat Feb 25, 2017, 10:28 AM

Choose your bicycle route carefully, if you use one, to protect your lungs.

As I often state in this space, air pollution - even free from the effects of climate change - remains to this day one of the major environmental causes of human mortality, responsible for about 7 million deaths per year.

A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 (Lancet 2012, 380, 2224–60: For air pollution mortality figures see Table 3, page 2238 and the text on page 2240.)

Overall, the most serious air pollution deaths are centered in Asia, as the graphic below shows:



I posted this graphic in another earlier in this space: Nature: China's annual air pollution deaths now stand at 1.4 million per year.

The original paper from which this post derives is here: The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale (Nature 525, 367–371 (17 September 2015)

Even though the post generated no comment here - we'd rather crow here about how wonderful so called "renewable energy" is even though it hasn't worked, isn't working and won't work to save lives from air pollution - it still represents a serious, if ignored issue.

Although Asia looks terrible, one with a small amount of reflection, will notice that Western Germany and the Netherlands are in very bad shape, as is Southern England with regions running above or close to 1000 deaths per 100 km[sup]2[/sup], and in fact the entire so called "renewable energy" wonderland countries of Germany and Denmark exceed 300 deaths per 100 km[sup]2[/sup]. In all of Europe, only South Central France, and Central Spain (except for Madrid) have air pollution death rates lower than 50 deaths per km[sup]2[/sup].

If one copies the graphic into some software program that allows it to expand - Powerpoint will work - one can see the fine details of the United States. Death rates at or around 1000 deaths per 100 km[sup]2[/sup] are observed in the Northeast corridor (where I live), Ohio, the Chicago area, the San Diego - LA corridor and San Francisco Bay area. What appears to be Denver and Phoenix isn't pretty either.

I used to live in the LA area, and for about 3 years despite the fact that it was then - and probably still is - a car CULTure paradise, I engaged in a one man war against the internal combustion engine by bicycling everywhere. I commuted, for those who know the LA area, between Hermosa Beach and Harbor City, at first along Pacific Coast Highway, a huge wide congested strip mall in those days - or even worse - the refineries on Crenshaw Avenue, all by bicycle.

I, um, lost the war, by the way, and now am a suburban asshole with a lawn and a car.

One could feel the pollution in one's lungs if one got up to speed. Ultimately it was bad enough - and the cars threatening enough - that I chose, despite the huge inclines, to climb over Palos Verdes. It took longer, required more strength and being in better shape, but it was very, very, very healthy.

In some ways, although I was miserable in many other important ways, I miss those times.

I was catching up some reading, and came across an old paper in a journal I used to read quite a bit but from which I drifted away when Princeton University cut off their subscription Science of the Total Environment. The paper was written by scientists from that "renewable energy" paradise, the offshore oil and gas drilling hellhole Denmark, and it quantifies how one can do as I did, and choose bicycle routes that will slow the rates at which air pollution will kill you.

The paper is here: A proper choice of route significantly reduces air pollution exposure — A study on bicycle and bus trips in urban streets (Hertel, et al, Science of The Total Environment Volume 389, Issue 1, 15 January 2008, Pages 58–70)

Some excerpts:

The introduction:

A large number of studies have shown strong associations between ambient air pollution levels and adverse health effects; see e.g. the review by (Brunekreef and Holgate, 2002).Studies of long-term exposure to air pollutants have suggested an increased risk of chronic respiratory illness (Folinsbee,1993), cardiopulmonary mortality (Hoek et al., 2002) and of developing various types of cancer (Pope et al., 2002), whereas higher prevalence of bronchitis (Karakatsani et al., 2002), acute cardiovascular decease (Urch et al., 2005), asthma and other symptoms (Sunyer et al., 1997) have been associated with short-term exposure to air pollution during periods with enhanced concentration levels. Inside the urban area, the dispersion of pollutants emitted from traffic is strongly suppressed by the presence of building obstacles. The traffic density is at the same time often substantial in the urban areas, and in cities like Copenhagen it has even been increasing in recent years. Traffic is thus source to significant air pollution levels in urban areas in general, but especially inside the busiest streets. People living and/or working in the urban areas are therefore exposed thigh levels of air pollution, especially when they are travelling in the trafficked streets...


The questions the paper purports to answer:

In Denmark, the bicycle is a common mean of transport over short distances e.g. in urban areas. When the air pollution levels vary significantly between streets and even between street sections, there must be a significant difference in air pollution exposure depending on the choice of route through the city. This consideration is the background for the present study, where we investigate the influence of choosing high and low exposure routes in urban streets when commuting between home and working place. The main questions that we address in this paper are therefore:

• Is it possible to significantly reduce air pollution exposure during a daily bicycle trip between home and work by taking low exposure route through a city, as an alternative to taking the shortest possible route?

• Can the air pollution exposure be significantly reduced by travelling outside rush hours’ time periods compared to travelling during the rush hour?

• To what extent is the exposure during travels in urban areas dominated by the urban background contribution, and the contribution from local traffic emissions, respectively?

• How is the air pollution exposure for the same travel from home to working place when you take the bus compared to taking the bicycle?

• Is there a potential for developing a green route planner to help the public in choosing the route through the city with the lowest air pollution exposure?


Lots of good science is described in the paper, including measurement of the major outdoor health related pollutants, PM[sub]10[/sub], PM[sub]2.5[/sub], NO[sub]x[/sub] in general and NO[sub]2[/sub] specifically.

The conclusion which was, um, obvious to me on my bicycle route along the Hermosa/Redondo Strand bike bath, and either Pacific Coast Highway (dangerous) and Palos Verdes (less dangerous), all those years ago is this:


The presented study has demonstrated that it is possible to significantly reduce the accumulated air pollution exposure during the daily bicycle route between home and working place by following the low exposure route instead of following the shortest possible route. The difference in accumulated air pollution exposure is significant for the primary pollutants. When the street contribution is considered the difference in accumulated air pollution exposure is significant for both primary and secondary pollutants. Travelling outside the rush hour time periods significantly reduces the accumulated air pollution exposure along the routes through the city. The effect is seen to be especially pronounced for the morning rush hours, whereas the effect isles pronounced for the rush hour in afternoon. The population may therefore be advised to travel outside the rush hour time periods.


I think I'll go bicycling today, just for old times sake. We have wonderful bike paths in this part of New Jersey.

I wish you as pleasant a weekend as mine.

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