Effects of air pollution exposure on adult bicycle commuters : an investigation of respiratory health, motorised traffic proximity and the utility of commute re-routing

Cole-Hunter, Thomas Anthony (2012) Effects of air pollution exposure on adult bicycle commuters : an investigation of respiratory health, motorised traffic proximity and the utility of commute re-routing. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Bicycle commuting has the potential to be an effective contributing solution to address some of modern society’s biggest issues, including cardiovascular disease, anthropogenic climate change and urban traffic congestion. However, individuals shifting from a passive to an active commute mode may be increasing their potential for air pollution exposure and the associated health risk. This project, consisting of three studies, was designed to investigate the health effects of bicycle commuters in relation to air pollution exposure, in a major city in Australia (Brisbane).

The aims of the three studies were to: 1) examine the relationship of in-commute air pollution exposure perception, symptoms and risk management; 2) assess the efficacy of commute re-routing as a risk management strategy by determining the exposure potential profile of ultrafine particles along commute route alternatives of low and high proximity to motorised traffic; and, 3) evaluate the feasibility of implementing commute re-routing as a risk management strategy by monitoring ultrafine particle exposure and consequential physiological response from using commute route alternatives based on real-world circumstances; 3) investigate the potential of reducing exposure to ultrafine particles (UFP; < 0.1 µm) during bicycle commuting by lowering proximity to motorised traffic with real-time air pollution and acute inflammatory measurements in healthy individuals using their typical, and an alternative to their typical, bicycle commute route.

The methods of the three studies included: 1) a questionnaire-based investigation with regular bicycle commuters in Brisbane, Australia. Participants (n = 153; age = 41 ± 11 yr; 28% female) reported the characteristics of their typical bicycle commute, along with exposure perception and acute respiratory symptoms, and amenability for using a respirator or re-routing their commute as risk management strategies; 2) inhaled particle counts measured along popular pre-identified bicycle commute route alterations of low (LOW) and high (HIGH) motorised traffic to the same inner-city destination at peak commute traffic times. During commute, real-time particle number concentration (PNC; mostly in the UFP range) and particle diameter (PD), heart and respiratory rate, geographical location, and meteorological variables were measured. To determine inhaled particle counts, ventilation rate was calculated from heart-rate-ventilation associations, produced from periodic exercise testing; 3) thirty-five healthy adults (mean ± SD: age = 39 ± 11 yr; 29% female) completed two return trips of their typical route (HIGH) and a pre-determined altered route of lower proximity to motorised traffic (LOW; determined by the proportion of on-road cycle paths). Particle number concentration (PNC) and diameter (PD) were monitored in real-time in-commute. Acute inflammatory indices of respiratory symptom incidence, lung function and spontaneous sputum (for inflammatory cell analyses) were collected immediately pre-commute, and one and three hours post-commute.

The main results of the three studies are that: 1) healthy individuals reported a higher incidence of specific acute respiratory symptoms in- and post- (compared to pre-) commute (p < 0.05). The incidence of specific acute respiratory symptoms was significantly higher for participants with respiratory disorder history compared to healthy participants (p < 0.05). The incidence of in-commute offensive odour detection, and the perception of in-commute air pollution exposure, was significantly lower for participants with smoking history compared to healthy participants (p < 0.05). Females reported significantly higher incidence of in-commute air pollution exposure perception and other specific acute respiratory symptoms, and were more amenable to commute re-routing, compared to males (p < 0.05). Healthy individuals have indicated a higher incidence of acute respiratory symptoms in- and post- (compared to pre-) bicycle commuting, with female gender and respiratory disorder history indicating a comparably-higher susceptibility; 2) total mean PNC of LOW (compared to HIGH) was reduced (1.56 x e4 ± 0.38 x e4 versus 3.06 x e4 ± 0.53 x e4 ppcc; p = 0.012). Total estimated ventilation rate did not vary significantly between LOW and HIGH (43 ± 5 versus 46 ± 9 L•min; p = 0.136); however, due to total mean PNC, accumulated inhaled particle counts were 48% lower in LOW, compared to HIGH (7.6 x e8 ± 1.5 x e8 versus 14.6 x e8 ± 1.8 x e8; p = 0.003); 3) LOW resulted in a significant reduction in mean PNC (1.91 x e4 ± 0.93 x e4 ppcc vs. 2.95 x e4 ± 1.50 x e4 ppcc; p ≤ 0.001). Commute distance and duration were not significantly different between LOW and HIGH (12.8 ± 7.1 vs. 12.0 ± 6.9 km and 44 ± 17 vs. 42 ± 17 mins, respectively). Besides incidence of in-commute offensive odour detection (42 vs. 56 %; p = 0.019), incidence of dust and soot observation (33 vs. 47 %; p = 0.038) and nasopharyngeal irritation (31 vs. 41 %; p = 0.007), acute inflammatory indices were not significantly associated to in-commute PNC, nor were these indices reduced with LOW compared to HIGH.

The main conclusions of the three studies are that: 1) the perception of air pollution exposure levels and the amenability to adopt exposure risk management strategies where applicable will aid the general population in shifting from passive, motorised transport modes to bicycle commuting; 2) for bicycle commuting at peak morning commute times, inhaled particle counts and therefore cardiopulmonary health risk may be substantially reduced by decreasing exposure to motorised traffic, which should be considered by both bicycle commuters and urban planners; 3) exposure to PNC, and the incidence of offensive odour and nasopharyngeal irritation, can be significantly reduced when utilising a strategy of lowering proximity to motorised traffic whilst bicycle commuting, without significantly increasing commute distance or duration, which may bring important benefits for both healthy and susceptible individuals.

In summary, the findings from this project suggests that bicycle commuters can significantly lower their exposure to ultrafine particle emissions by varying their commute route to reduce proximity to motorised traffic and associated combustion emissions without necessarily affecting their time of commute. While the health endpoints assessed with healthy individuals were not indicative of acute health detriment, individuals with pre-disposing physiological-susceptibility may benefit considerably from this risk management strategy – a necessary research focus with the contemporary increased popularity of both promotion and participation in bicycle commuting.

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ID Code: 61101
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Solomon, Colin, Morawska, Lidia, Stewart, Ian, & Jayaratne, Rohan
Keywords: air pollution , ultrafine particles , bicycle commuting , inhaled particle count , perceptions , symptoms , lung function , inflammatory mediators , risk assessment , risk management
Divisions: Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 03 Jul 2013 04:19
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015 03:07

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