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Experts say cycling is part of the pollution solution

Air pollution is in the headlines today as a variety of weather conditions including dust blown in from the Sahara combine to push the level of pollution to the top of  Defra's ten-point scale in some parts of south-east England. Should cyclists be concerned and what can be done about it?

The immediate good news, according to Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection at Public Health England, is that normally healthy people should have nothing to worry about.

Speaking on the Today program this morning, Dr Cosford said: “For normal healthy people, I am on my bike today and other people should be. We don’t need to buy little white masks, we need to increase the amount of physical activity that we do because it’s great for our health.

“So this is, in a way, a reminder to do something that is both good for the environment, let’s reduce the air pollution, but lets do things that are good for our health too, let’s walk, let’s cycle, let’s do all the things that are of benefit to us.”

Dr Cosford said that if you do feel the effects of the bad air, then take it easier.

“We may notice sore eyes coughs, or throat and maybe a little bit of a wheeze if we’re taking physical activity outdoors and if that occurs it’s sensible to reduce, during these high pollution episodes, the amount of physical activity.”

That's not to play down the risk to anyone with an existing condition, such as asthma. Dr Helen Dacre, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, told the Independent: "High air pollution levels can cause unpleasant and dangerous effects on health, both long and short term.

"Toxic gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone, as well as fine dust particles in the air blown in from the Sahara and from burning fossil fuels, all contribute to cause problems for people with heart, lung and breathing problems, such as asthma.

"The problem is likely to be particularly bad today because weather conditions have conspired to create a 'perfect storm' for air pollution."

Because of air pollution’s effect on people who are already ill or elderly, it’s a major contributor to early death, according to Public Health England, which says on its website: “In the UK alone, it is estimated that the burden of long-term exposure to anthropogenic particulate air pollution in 2008 was an effect on mortality equivalent to nearly 29,000 deaths at typical ages and an associated loss of total population life of 340,000 life-years.”

Diesel vehicles are a major source of air pollution. The UK is  facing fines of up to £300 million per year from the European Commission for its failure to rein in emissions of nitrogen dioxide from diesels.

Governments were supposed to have reduced air pollution to “safe levels” by 2010. A five-year extension was granted to countries with problem areas, as long as they had “a credible and workable plan for meeting air-quality standards within five years of the original deadline” but Britain looks unlikely to hit the target in 2015.

“The UK has not presented any such plan for the zones in question. The Commission is therefore of the opinion that the UK is in breach of its obligations under the directive,” the commission said.

What steps can the UK take to improve things? You probably won’t be surprised to hear that experts think cycling can be a big part of the solution to pollution.

Dr Cosford said the answers included, “things like greening our vehicles, improving the public transport system so that it’s easier to use public transport rather than using cars, but particularly two other things: creating better green spaces in our cities and towns, and also the more that we encourage active transport like walking and cycling.

“That is particularly beneficial, it reduces the amount of road transport, reduces the amount of air pollution and also gives us that fantastic health benefit.”

While London and the South-East chokes and politicians quail from putting people’s health above the interests of the road haulage lobby, Paris has already taken steps to reduce motor traffic and therefore pollution at times of poor air quality.

The BBC reports that on Monday March 17, a car ban was imposed in Paris following pollution levels of 180 microgrammes of PM10 particulates per cubic metre on Friday March 14. The ‘safe’ limit is 80µg/m3.

Seven hundred Parisian police officers monitored the city’s roads from 180 control points around the region between 5:30am and midnight, allowing only vehicles with odd-numbered licence plates on the road.  The next day it was the turn of even-number plated cars.

Police reportedly issued 4,000 tickets for a €22 fine by midday on March 17, with 27 cars impounded after their drivers refused to cooperate.

The preceding Friday (March 14) public transport was free of charge and that continued over the weekend into the Monday.

In October 2011 the Italian city of Milan banned all traffic from its streets for 10 hours in an attempt to reduce smog.

Active travel organisations have pointed out that the root of the problem is that motorised transport has been made a priority in city planning for many decades.

Philip Insall, Director of Health for sustainable transport charity Sustrans said: “Hardly a day passes without new and frightening evidence of the harm done by our obsession with motorised transport.

“The World Health Organisation has calculated that globally, air pollution kills seven million people a year. In the UK it is a grave threat to health – and yet right in front of us is a major contribution to solving the air quality problem: a shift to walking and cycling for local trips.

“More people travelling on foot or by bike would mean less congestion and also cut the death toll from climate change and from physical inactivity.

“Today’s air quality warning is another red light for traditional car-dominated transport policies. Government needs to do much more, right now, in the way of policy and dedicated investment in clean, healthy travel such as walking and cycling.”

Elliot Johnston contributed to this story.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

43 comments

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rich22222 [164 posts] 2 years ago
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Time everyone accepted how anti social and unhealthy for everyone private motor vehicles are.

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mrmo [2070 posts] 2 years ago
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If pollution rises the solution is to stop doing what creates the pollution, and more specifically creates the pollution where it most affects people! ban cars in towns and cities.

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kie7077 [874 posts] 2 years ago
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Just 22,000 taxi's causing 30% of inner London's pollution and our government can't figure out a solution. Looks to me like they really haven't tried, they thought they could sit on their arses and wait for car technology to make cars cleaner and result in lower pollution. It didn't work, fine them, the maximum.

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caaad10 [184 posts] 2 years ago
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I cycled for a couple of hours yesterday on a sunny blue sky day (in SW France where the air is usually clean but there has been a lot of that saharan dust evident), when I got home it felt like I'd been frying chilli peppers and I've had a nasty cough since. I've decided not to go out today, I'm going to wait until it has rained & the air has cleared. I've never had anything like it before....

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Matt_Z [37 posts] 2 years ago
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It won't make a difference to the already very high pollution levels in central London. I have to wear a tektro mask due to the NO2 (diesels) wrecking havoc with my asthma. So, if you are outside London this is news, otherwise its business as usual.

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stuke [335 posts] 2 years ago
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I'm full of cold and with a sore throat decided to take the car instead of the bike to work today to avoid the pollution..........oh the irony!!  4

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Ush [674 posts] 2 years ago
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stuke wrote:

I'm full of cold and with a sore throat decided to take the car instead of the bike to work today to avoid the pollution..........oh the irony!!  4

It is ironic. And it illustrates that the problem is not solvable on the level of individual action. Similar to the situation that parents dare not let their children walk to school let alone cycle because of all the traffic caused by their cohorts doing the same thing.

Some problems require society-level choices.

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RobD [289 posts] 2 years ago
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Having seen how much influence lobby groups can have on decisions I'm not surprised the government hasn't taken a more proactive stance on trying to improve air quality.
Hopefully this week will bring it to the forefront a little bit more.
Maybe if they want to encourage people to cycle more they should cut the VAT on bikes, put an extra penny on fuel duty would no doubt cover the cost.
Times may be tight for people and cars may be needed by many for work, but some proper action would really help encourage people. Helping cut the ludicrous costs of railfare (and other public transport) will help a little, but there need to be genuine options that offer people a combination of cost savings and little in the way of inconvenience compared to car driving.

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ribena [179 posts] 2 years ago
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TFL abandoned their attempts to enforce new low emission rules on private buses, coaches and lorries last year...
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/lez/17678.aspx

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Username [178 posts] 2 years ago
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It's perverted that the official advice today is to exercise less and stay indoors. It should be the reverse.

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Paul M [360 posts] 2 years ago
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Ban private cars, except limited exceptions eg blue badge holders.
Set a cap on the number of licensed taxis and licensed taxi drivers (as 2 or more drivers often shift-share one cab) at or close to current levels, to discourage drivers simply switching to taxis. Establish some form of secondary licensing scheme for minicabs so their numbers can also be capped.
Set a deadline for all vehicles, whether tax, bus or commercial, to conform with the emissions limits imposed on all newer vehicles at MOT for some time now.
If they don't do this now, they will find the need to do it later ever more compelling.

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levermonkey [663 posts] 2 years ago
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stuke wrote:

I'm full of cold and with a sore throat decided to take the car instead of the bike to work today to avoid the pollution..........oh the irony!!  4

You do realise that you have exposed yourself to the same levels of pollution as you would have done cycling but without the health benefits of exercise. But don't beat yourself up about it; you will recover quicker with a short break from riding than if you tried to ride through the flu. A couple of days is usually enough.

Recover soon.

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jollygoodvelo [1410 posts] 2 years ago
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levermonkey wrote:
stuke wrote:

I'm full of cold and with a sore throat decided to take the car instead of the bike to work today to avoid the pollution..........oh the irony!!  4

You do realise that you have exposed yourself to the same levels of pollution as you would have done cycling but without the health benefits of exercise. But don't beat yourself up about it; you will recover quicker with a short break from riding than if you tried to ride through the flu. A couple of days is usually enough.

Recover soon.

I'm not going to go and look it up (facts? On the Internet?) but I believe there was a study recently which said car passengers inhaled six times as much pollutants at cyclists over a journey of the same distance.

I'm about to ride home through the 'smog'. Looks like a lovely evening.

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pmanc [203 posts] 2 years ago
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And Boris's best plans to avoid the fines? Try to hide the pollution where it's being monitored and try to get the law relaxed rather than improve the levels.

Let's remember this EU law exists to try and protect the health of some of the most vulnerable members of society from a risk we can't see and avoid ourselves. Of course the taxpayers will lose out because of the fines - I wish we could make the politicians personally liable so they would pay for their negligence.

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sanderville [340 posts] 2 years ago
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Yes Sir, this is all because of cars and taxis. Nothing to do with the tons and tons of alluminium and barium pumped into the sky as chemtrails. No way, chemtrails don't exist. No siree, them persistent white lines in the sky next to the contrails is perfectly natural, yes sir. All that dust be comin from the Sahara, sho nuff. Blame dem cars, bossee.

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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Take your chemtrail agenda off to a different topic, this has nothing to do with them.

It's not because of cars and taxis, it's because of deliberate political agendas, still living in ignorance?.

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Quince [382 posts] 2 years ago
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#BloodyMotorists

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sanderville [340 posts] 2 years ago
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If you want me to take it to a different topic then don't finish with a question. Get it?

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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Sanderville wrote:

If you want me to take it to a different topic then don't finish with a question. Get it?

Clearly you don't because if you did you'd realise they are completely unrelated.

*laughing*

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paulmcmillan [96 posts] 2 years ago
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If high petrol prices won't reduce car use, pollution is not going to. The "normal" way for humans to get about is now via car.

I've identified a gap in the market for fitting HEPA filters to car ventilation systems though.......

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sanderville [340 posts] 2 years ago
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I honestly don't realise how a sudden spike in atmospheric pollution across the country is unrelated to a massive surge in chemtrails over the UK observed, photographed and posted to the internet in the last couple of days. Especially in a city like London that has no heavy industry, no coal fires, and traffic curtailed by swingeing road access tariffs, but where Saharan sand is suddenly announced to be a toxic hazard for the first time in living memory. I honestly would like you to enlighten me on that, O Star of the North.

*not laughing at all, in fact totally disgusted to be corresponding with Sally Bercow*

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northstar [1108 posts] 2 years ago
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You mean you are corresponding yourself, "Sally"?

Your apparent deliberate ignorance(?) / just general stupidity(?) is quite amusing.

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sanderville [340 posts] 2 years ago
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northstar, you sound like a taxpayer-funded Common Purpose graduate whose lifestyle depends on the continued funding of Agenda 21. But since you don't have a single word to back up your position - on yer bike, love.

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banzicyclist2 [299 posts] 2 years ago
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I changed jobs this year, and used my car to commute from Milton Keynes to Ampthill in Bedfordshire during January and February. But as soon as I was able to bring my bike from home I've been back on two wheels. So I'm doing my bit. Didn't seem too bad today, it was very hazy.

Surpisingly there are some lovely quiet roads to explore around here  4 So you can get away from all the BMW and AUDI drivers who seem to think they own the road! I have no idea what it about these makes of car, but they seem to be the most selfish drivers.

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SteppenHerring [328 posts] 2 years ago
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paulmcmillan wrote:

If high petrol prices won't reduce car use, pollution is not going to. The "normal" way for humans to get about is now via car.

True about the default way to get around, but I work in the breakdown industry and there's quite a lot of evidence that high petrol prices have reduced car use. All we can hope is that the government doesn't succumb to pressure to reduce duty. All that will happen is that the companies will raise prices to the same as they were but keep the extra profit.

The problem is that the rising prices affect those have have to drive (the disabled, people delivering stuff) as well as people who are driving half a mile to the supermarket when they could walk.

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WolfieSmith [1318 posts] 2 years ago
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Nice fresh air up here in the North West!

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bikebot [1886 posts] 2 years ago
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lol, how did this topic get onto chemtrails? It's not a full moon is it?  35

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TimC340 [75 posts] 2 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

lol, how did this topic get onto chemtrails? It's not a full moon is it?  35

Some people believe in fairies. Similarly, others believe in 'chemtrails'. Bless.

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Al__S [1018 posts] 2 years ago
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Oh my, we've got a live one. I do love a conspiracy butter.
Just hoping the air improves by Sunday. Air quality is lovely here in Tenerife!

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sponican [88 posts] 2 years ago
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Sanderville wrote:

... a massive surge in chemtrails over the UK observed, photographed and posted to the internet in the last couple of days.

The massive spike in pollution is probably caused by the increased power consumption in data centres hosting conspiracy theory websites.

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