Tunnels concentrate air pollution by up to 1,000 times

August 27, 2009

A toxic cocktail of ultrafine particles is lurking inside road tunnels in concentration levels so high they have the potential to harm drivers and passengers, a new study has found.

The study, which has been published in Atmospheric Environment, measured ultrafine particle concentration levels outside a vehicle travelling through the M5 East tunnel in Sydney.

Study co-author and director of Queensland University of Technology's International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, Professor Lidia Morawska, said road tunnels were locations where maximum exposure to dangerous ultrafine particles in addition to other pollutants occurred.

"The human health effects of exposure to ultrafine particles produced by fuel combustion are generally regarded as detrimental," Professor Morawska said.

"Effects can range from minor in healthy people, to (heart attack) in people with existing heart complaints.

Professor Morawska said the study involved more than 300 trips through the four kilometres of the M5 East tunnel, with journeys lasting up to 26 minutes, depending on traffic congestion.

"What this study aimed to do was identify the concentration levels found in the tunnel. It generated a huge body of data on the concentrations and the results show that, at times, the levels are up to 1000 times higher than in urban ambient conditions," she said.

She said drivers and occupants of new vehicles which had their windows closed were safer than people travelling in older vehicles.

"People who are driving older vehicles which are inferior in terms of tightness and also those riding motorcycles or driving convertibles, these people are exposed to incredibly high concentrations," she said.

"When compared with similar studies reported previously, the measurements here were among the highest recorded concentrations," she said.

Professor Morawska said tunnels were becoming an increasingly necessary infrastructure component in many cities across the world.

"When governments are building tunnels for urban design reasons, they should also consider the impact these tunnels are having on the environment and to people's health," she said.

"The study highlights why governments need to consider how they are going to deal with the air pollution levels inside the tunnel and removal of ultrafine particles in the outside environment."

Source: Queensland University of Technology (news : web)

Explore further: Time spent in car drives up air pollution exposure

Related Stories

Time spent in car drives up air pollution exposure

October 30, 2007

The daily commute may be taking more of a toll than people realize. A new study by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and the California Air Resources Board found that up to half of Los Angeles residents’ ...

Dangerous laser printer particles identified

February 11, 2009

The identity and origin of tiny, potentially hazardous particles emitted from common laser printers have been revealed by a new study at Queensland University of Technology.

Recommended for you

Clues from ancient Maya reveal lasting impact on environment

September 3, 2015

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today's environmental conditions, ...

Climate ups odds of 'grey swan' superstorms

August 31, 2015

Climate change will boost the odds up to 14-fold for extremely rare, hard-to-predict tropical cyclones for parts of Australia, the United States and Dubai by 2100, researchers said Monday.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

THEY
not rated yet Aug 27, 2009
This isn't surprising. Glad they got the numbers though!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.