Atlantic Cities

One Downside to Bicycle Commuting: Biker's Lung

One Downside to Bicycle Commuting: Biker's Lung
Reuters/Tony Melville

If you bike to work, you’ve probably got pretty nice thighs. Your lungs, though, may not be in such great shape.

New research has found that bicycle commuters inhale more than twice the amount of black carbon particles as pedestrians making a comparable trip. That healthy bike ride to and from work might be getting you out of a car, but it’s not getting you out of the way of the automobile emissions.

The study, led by Professor Jonathan Grigg from Barts and the London School of Medicine, looked at bicycle and pedestrian commuters in London to determine whether different modes of travel exposed commuters to higher levels of black carbon. By comparing levels of carbon in the lungs of five healthy bicycle commuters to the levels of five healthy pedestrian commuters, the researchers found a large disparity. The bicycle commuters had 2.3 times more black carbon in their lungs. They claim that the probability of this happening by chance is less than one percent.

Fuel-combustion creates this black carbon, or soot, which can be inhaled and which persists in the lungs, creating potential health risks. Following on the hypothesis that bicycle commuters’ heavier breathing would expose them to more of the particulate pollutants created by fuel-burning traffic, the researchers were relatively unsurprised by their results, which were presented at this weekend's European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress.

“Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes,” said Dr. Chinedu Nwokoro, one of the researchers in the study and an active cyclist. “Whether cycling by healthy individuals is in itself associated with adverse health effects is currently being assessed in a larger ongoing study.”

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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