Influence of the Natural and Built Environment on Personal Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) in Cyclists Using City Designated Bicycle Routes

Cycling is becoming an increasingly popular commuting choice for North Americans due to the health benefits that cycling offers. Despite these health benefits, urban cyclists are often exposed to traffic-related air pollution, including particulate matter (PM2.5), which may be compromising their health, as PM2.5 can penetrate deep into the lungs and promote or exacerbate respiratory problems. The natural and built environment are known to contribute to variability in PM2.5 levels, however there are no studies that have examined elements of both environments for their importance in personal PM2.5 variability. This is what prompted our research team – Jason Gilliland, Matthew Maltby, Xiaohong Xu, Isaac Luginaah and Tayyab Shah – to investigate personal exposure to PM2.5 and to assess elements of both the natural and built environment to determine the relative importance of these factors when accounting for personal variability to PM2.5 exposure.

A high resolution PM2.5 monitor along with a portable GPS tracker was used by study participants to provide the research team with a spatial account of environmental elements that are contributing to the variation in personal PM2.5 exposure. The research team used a geographic information system (GIS) based upon a mixture of land uses to generate a representative sample of bicycle routes in London Ontario. Results indicated that personal PM2.5 exposure levels were lower in parks and higher industrial areas. The study also reported many incidences of PM2.5 personal exposures that exceeded the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s guidelines for healthy activity, occurring in bike paths near urban infrastructures.

This study offers insights into potential strategies that can balance the health benefits of cycling while limiting environmental exposure to pollutants like PM2.5. Such strategies include incorporating the environmental elements correlated with hazardous PM2.5 exposure when designing future or alternative bicycle paths in order to minimize pollutant exposure to commuting cyclists. Future improvements to this study that link health outcomes can help strengthen these strategies and could benefit cyclists vulnerable to pollutant exposure.


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Keywords: child; schools; transportation; walking; air pollution; environmental exposure

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