The Houses of Parliament hidden in fog

Air pollution study gets underway in London, as eight volunteers monitor personal levels

Image credit: George Tsiagalakis

Eight Londoners will be living for two weeks attached to high-tech air pollution monitors as part of a King’s College London study aiming to assess individuals’ exposure to harmful pollutants.

The study focuses on how different modes of transportation affect the individuals’ total exposure to air pollution. The researchers also want to find out whether the individual might be able to reduce the load by choosing a different, quieter route to and from their place of work. The study is being supported by The Northbank BID and the Mayor of London.

“The detectors are measuring black carbon and particulate matter, which generally come from diesel exhaust. It’s mostly related to exposure to traffic, but we can also find it on the Underground as it can come from brake wear,” explained Andrew Grieve, King’s College Air Quality Analyst. “The participants are also wearing a GPS watch, which will allow us to tie their exposure exactly to their location so we can build a picture of how exposure on different routes differs.”

The eight participants represent the different modes of transportation a Londoner can opt for in terms of moving around the city – a cyclist, a motorcyclist, people travelling on the Tube, the Overground and by bus are involved in the study.

Participants and organisers of the air pollution study. E&T reporter Tereza Pultarova top left

E&T magazine reporter Tereza Pultarova (top left) with four other guinea pigs and the study's organisers

Image credit: The Northbank BID

“Outdoor air pollution is well monitored, well characterised, well understood and has been for a long time,” Grieve explained. “But everyone takes a unique journey through the city every day and we now have these little monitors that allow us to build a much richer picture of what people’s exposure really is.”

The study starts just as a spell of extremely high air pollution in London draws to an end. Grieve prefers that the study takes place during a more ‘normal’ period, as it allows them to assess a more ‘regular’ situation.

“Had we done it last week, we wouldn’t have seen such variations in exposure based on different routes and modes of transport as we hope to see,” Grieve said. “It would have been similarly bad everywhere.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, pledged to clean up the capital’s toxic air. An Ultra Low Emission Zone will be established in central London in 2020, allowing only vehicles meeting the strictest standards to drive in the city for free. Cars not meeting the limits will be subject to charges.

The Mayor also promised to retire old polluting diesel buses and to only procure hybrid or electric ones from 2018 onwards.

The measures could reduce the concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter inside the zone by up to 49 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. However, some believe more aggressive action is needed.

Earlier this week, Paris banned all diesel cars registered before 2000 from the city completely and the city’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo hopes to extend the ban to cars registered between 2001 and 2005.

*E&T reporter Tereza Pultarova [top left in the above image] is part of the King's College study. How much air pollution does she inhale during her 40-minute cycle from North London to E&T’s offices on the Embankment? A feature will follow for E&T magazine at the end of the study.

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