New research has found that exposure to pollutants during the daily commute is significantly higher, with the chemicals inhaled believed to be involved in the development of a number of heart and respiratory diseases, cancers and even neurodegenerative diseases.
Michael Bergin, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University said: “We found that people are likely getting a double whammy of exposure in terms of health during rush-hour commutes.
“If these chemicals are as bad for people as many researchers believe, then commuters should seriously be rethinking their driving habits.”
Described as “oxidative stress”, it is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to counteract – or detoxify – their harmful effects on the body.
The phenomenon is thought to play a role in a wide range of diseases including Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, heart failure and heart attack, sickle cell disease, autism, infection, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
According to an earlier report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to the detrimental health effects of ozone, fine particulate matter and other airborne toxicants.
For the study, researchers from Duke University, Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology strapped specially designed sampling devices into the passenger seats of cars during morning rush hour commutes in downtown Atlanta.
The devices detected up to twice as much particulate matter as previously used roadside sensors.
Heidi Vreeland, a doctoral student in Professor Bergin’s lab and first author of the paper said: “There are a lot of reasons an in-car air sample would find higher levels of certain kinds of air pollution.
“The chemical composition of exhaust changes very quickly, even in the space of just a few feet. And morning sun heats the roadways, which causes an updraft that brings more pollution higher into the air.”
According to medical experts, the toxic air pollution exposure triggers an overreaction within the human body that can be destructive to healthy cells and DNA.
Professor Bergin added: “There’s still a lot of debate about what types of pollution are cause for the biggest concern and what makes them so dangerous.
“But the bottom line is that driving during rush hour is even worse than we thought.”
Roby Greenwald, a research…