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Sitting In Traffic Jams, We Breathe In Much Higher Levels Of Air Pollution

One becomes unaccustomed to the toxic experience of visiting gas stations when driving an all-electric vehicle. Once one stops frequenting such smelly places, there is a sensory shock on returning. Unfortunately, I had to gas up an ICE car this week. From the gas station to I-95, I potentially shortened my life as well as got a headache. Sitting in traffic jams can cause as much damage as if I smoked a bunch of cigarettes. Can someone explain to me why Florida’s governor turned down the possibility for more trains in Florida, which would cut back on the use of gasoline?

Like many people, I easily react to many environmental toxins. As I gassed up, the fumes made their way to my head in a flash. If I ever do this again, I am wearing a mask. I long for electric trains for longer routes around the state. That is I-95 in Miami below. Who wants to drive (or sit) in that mess, trying to figure out if it’s better to breathe or not to breathe.


Recent research from the University of Surrey explains that, “simple adjustments to your car’s ventilation system while sitting in traffic jams can greatly affect your exposure to toxic fumes by up to 76%.” Here are more details:

  • Pollution levels inside cars were found to be up to 40% higher while in traffic jams or at a red traffic light compared to free-flowing traffic conditions
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) has placed outdoor air pollution among the top 10 health risks faced by humans, linked with 7 million premature deaths a year, and about half of those  (in OECD countries) come from road transportation, costing trillions of dollars in those premature deaths alone.

Also note that, “particulate matter is singlehandedly responsible for up to 30,000 premature deaths each year” in the US.

The study advises putting fans onto the “re-circulate air within the car” setting. Another day, perhaps I will do a post on the toxins from the plastics inside the car as well to consider how that compares.

Scientists found that, “when the windows were closed but the fan was on, the exposure was usually the highest while in traffic.”

While ICE cars idle and then accelerate from 0 mph or so, they emit a great deal of emissions. These emissions take more time to disperse as well. The pollution ends up accumulating in the air at traffic lights.

The study found that cars in such locations emit “29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free flowing traffic.”

Compare the traffic jam above to the travel below.

M. C-A Twitter

“The problem is especially pronounced in urban cities with WHO classifying outdoor air pollution as being as carcinogenic to humans in October 2013 as smoking in February 1985.”

The senior author of the research, Dr. Prashant Kumar from the University of Surrey, said: “Where possible and with weather conditions allowing, it is one of the best ways to limit your exposure by keeping windows shut, fans turned off and to try and increase the distance between you and the car in front while in traffic jams or stationary at traffic lights.”

Check out the full report for more details.

Images: Miami Traffic Jam I-95 via Wikimedia Commons; Screenshot of M. Colville-Andersen on a Train via Twitter

Related Stories:

Benzene — #1 In “Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used By The Fossil Fuel Industries” Series

Industrial Chemicals Present In Many Foods Within The US, Research Finds

Air Pollution Linked To Brain Disorders & Diminished Cognitive Abilities (American Psychological Association)


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Written By

Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings born with spiritual insights and ethics beyond this world. (She was able to advance more in this way led by her children.)


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