Cyclists More At Risk From Pollution Than Pedestrians

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 80 months ago
Cyclists More At Risk From Pollution Than Pedestrians

A study has found that cyclists inhale twice as much soot as pedestrians as they move around the city. Research conducted at Barts and the London School of Medicine found 2.3 times the amount of black carbon in people who cycled rather than walked.

Admittedly, it's a small study, looking at just five participants from both categories, but the findings would seem to back up common sense assumptions. Cyclists are closer to vehicles (and their exhausts) and the exercise is likely to make them breathe more deeply than walking. If it holds up on wider examination it's bad news: the UN found that black carbon is responsible for shortening lives by an average of 8.6 months in the EU, and London is already acknowledged to have some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

The delayed expansion of the Low Emission Zone to include more vehicle types next year should help on the 'particulate matter' front, but London's cyclists are still having to deal with air quality that the Olympics deem to be bordering on unsuitable, as well as ridiculous cycle lanes and other irritations. How do you combat air pollution? Do face masks make any difference at all?

Image by zefrog from the Londonist Flickr pool

Last Updated 26 September 2011


Even if this were accurate, the effect is negligible. Cyclists benefit from better fitness, reduced risk of heart problems, etc. This is a bit of a non-article.

Alexander van Terheyden

Londons Pollution is out of control - Riding through Central London everyday I wonder how quickly i'm shortening my life..

Tony Woolf

I've tried in vain to find any details on this.  It doesn't look like a very serious study, as the numbers involved are so small, it would be thrown out as an MSc thesis.  So it's not much good as a guide to individual action. But it does highlight air pollution.  In London, black cabs are a significant part of the problem and Darren Johnson has written a good and relevant article in Mayorwatch (Sept 21) about this.


I use a 'bandit scarf' style face mask as it's easy to pull on and off, depending on whether you're cycling in traffic or on a back road. I feel like it makes a big difference, but not sure of the stats. Better safe than sorry though...? 

'highvis' James

i think i am far more likely to die by the wheel of these 'private hire taxi cabs'  that seem to rule the roads these days, than i am from breathing in soot. if i see the blue london transport logo on the back window i keep well away.  they are lethal!