Respiratory Physiotherapist says there's not enough health information for urban riders...

There are a number of issues that invariably push cyclists’ buttons: helmet-usage, incompetent lorry drivers, Rapha and Lance Armstrong to name but four, and judging by the reaction to this article, pollution can be added to that list.

Cyclists have betrayed their anger, frustration, confusion and even shown a bit of support, for an article by Amanda Dryer Respiratory Physiotherapist at Manchester Royal Infirmary which is posted on the BBC website.

The item deals with the issue of how much health information is made available to regular cyclists – urban commuting ones in particular – who are, inevitably breathing in pollution in the form of particulate matter from the traffic around them.

Ms Dryer is quick to acknowledge that cycling is a healthy activity which should not be discouraged over concerns about air quality but then immediately states: “It is critical, however, that we raise public awareness about the effects that air pollution has on the respiratory system - both in the short and long term.”

And it is hard to disagree with that statement other than perhaps, the notion that this information is “critical.” Many might say that such awareness “important” or “useful” but “critical”? Surely that suggests lives are in danger.

Judging by the comments below what appears to be an otherwise well researched and erudite article, many people appear irritated by the notion that an item on such a “critical” issue contains nothing in the way of hard facts and figures from scientific studies on the issue.

Commenters suggest that the article amounts to the kind of scaremongering that could potentially frighten people off their bikes and back into their cars, thereby exacerbating the pollution problem.

It’s a vexed issue that has clearly touched a nerve within the cycling community not least it seems because we don’t like being told that in doing what we feel is the right thing, we may actually be harming ourselves. Or is that how you see it?


the_mikey [163 posts] 6 years ago

If cyclists are at risk, then so are pedestrians, passengers on public transport as well as motorists, and anyone else on the street that needs to breathe air, singling out cyclists is missing the point.

davebinks [153 posts] 6 years ago

I'm sure I read or heard on the TV something to the effect that the air inside a car, with the windows up, was more dangerous than that in the street outside.

If I recall correctly, this was due to fact that the "fresh" air intake on cars is lower than the mouth of cyclists and pedestrians outside, and the the source of the pollution, vehicle exhausts, were pointing directly back towards the vehicle behind it, and thus directly into that vehicle's "fresh" air intake.
The other factor was, that once in the vehicle, the pollution takes some time to dissipate, whereas outside in the street, a puff of wind and it's blown away immediately.

I wonder if this researcher has thought about that, or has she fallen for the myth that the "filter" on some cars' "fresh" air intake removes the pollution? It may well remove large items of dust, but pollution also has very small particles and also a gaseous content that no filter will stop.

She needs to measure the pollution levels inside the car, not just outside it!

Tony Farrelly [2897 posts] 6 years ago

Seems to me the gist of the article is that poor air quality might be of some risk to cyclists, but that the benefits of cycling seem to outweight most of the disbenefits and we don't know what the actual risk is to cyclists or indeed the pedestrians or passangers in cars or buses…so carry in cycling.

Seems like it is basically a plea for more information on air quality which would be a good thing. Over the years I've seen loads of studies about pollution and cycling and for every one that's drawn attention to cyclists breathing in pollutants more deeply there's been another countering that they breathe them out more forcefully …so, how many cyclists do you know with a hacking cough brought on simply by cycling?

velocodger [11 posts] 6 years ago

There was a REALLY scientific study done on the effects of pollution on occupants of cars vs runners and cyclists beside the road in Washington DC. The result was that blood levels of carbon monoxide and other pollutants was higher in the car occupants than in the cyclists and runners on the roads. But of course the pinhead who made that idiotic comment wouldn't have found that out, as she obviously never researched her story before opening her mouth.

Michael5 [121 posts] 6 years ago

Really no need to get worked up and offensive about the potential misuse of a single word.

She's right; cars pollute. Its not going to stop me driving one when I'm not on my bike though. Whether its 'critical' we understand how much cyclists suffer from the pollution depends on how important it is to her that more funding is made available so that she can carry out said research...

Its also got some attention for her article that you can bet would have passed you by if she'd just put 'important'.

mrmo [2093 posts] 6 years ago

Crtiical is overstating the issue, but there should be plenty of information regarding the effects of pollution and the environment. People really need to be made aware of the impact that their choices have on the world around them, the damage it causes to health, to landscape, to wild animals, etc.

People far to easily fail to understand the consequences of their actions. If you choose to drive to the shop it is easy for you, but what are the results of that act.

antonio [1166 posts] 6 years ago

Ah, so that's why at seventy three I can only manage mid field finishes at the velodrome track league.

thereverent [443 posts] 6 years ago

Couldn't find the study I was looking for on air pollution.
But this ones has some interesting findings:
Cycling and Health. - What's the evidence?
(I have put the reference next to the quote for each)

"It is often assumed that cyclists (and pedestrians) are exposed to higher air pollution levels than motor vehicle occupants because they are physically unprotected, and because they may be breathing more deeply than passive car occupants. However, in slow moving traffic, typical of rush-hour traffic, car occupants can be exposed to higher pollutant levels."
(van Wijnen, J. Verhoeff, A., Jans, H. and van Bruggen, M. (1995). The exposure of cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians to traffic-related air pollutants, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 67, pp. 187-190)

"A review of the literature has concluded that: “Cars offer little or no protection against the pollutants generated by vehicle traffic. Road users can be exposed to significantly elevated levels of pollutants as they are, in effect, travelling in a ‘tunnel’ of pollution. Those road users travelling closest to the centre of this tunnel tend to experience higher concentrations of pollutants than those nearer to the roadside."
(Institute for European Environmental Policy/Environmental Transport Association (1997). Road user exposure to air pollution: Literature review, Weybridge: Environmental Transport Association)

"Car drivers also suffer up to two to three times greater exposure to pollution than pedestrians in slow moving traffic."
(Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (1998). A New Deal for Transport. Better for Everyone. London, The Stationery Office.)

andylul [410 posts] 6 years ago

Blow your nose after a day travelling on the London Underground to see how much healthier that is than cycling...

OldRidgeback [2786 posts] 6 years ago

Yep, the air in the underground is really rank. Is the muck that comes out of one's nostrils the type of particulate matter that causes lung disease, as with the particulates emitted from old tech diesel engines though? I think it would be interesting to carry out comparative air quality studies between cyclists and car occupants in traffic.

Kim [249 posts] 6 years ago

I am really not convinced that cyclists are ‘unaware of the risks from pollution’, most of them know that cycling is better for you than not cycling. The BBC really should be ashamed at the poor quality of this story!

cityrider [3 posts] 6 years ago

This may be a better solution for traffic pollution:

skippy [416 posts] 6 years ago

Air quality is a concern to us all !

Those in Australia, particularly Melbourne Area and Victoria should checkout www.hidehardtobreatheeasy.com.au

This young lady is terminally involved with Lung Cancer ! Never a smoker but like you and i suffered from secondary issues.

Currently in France for the cycle races but had i been in Victoria i should have joined the ride !

Looking to get "personalities" to phone in their support as the ride progresses !