Cycling UK presses Goverment to spend clean air charges on active travel

Cycling UK has called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consider re-investing Clean Air Zone charges into cycling and other active transport modes.

With pollution choking cities, many of whom are announcing increasing restrictions on motor vehicles, experts suggest that the problem is undoubtedly worse than is reported. Cycling UK therefore believes re-investing in transport behaviour change could be key to driving forward quick progress.

Roger Geffen, Cycling UK Policy Director said: “In this post-truth world, some journalists and politicians have claimed that cycle lanes actually worsen congestion and pollution. They can in fact take large numbers of polluting vehicles off the road, with a typical road lane carrying an average of 2,000 cars per hour or 14,000 bicycles.”

“Let’s therefore use the revenue brought in from Clean Air Zones to fund sustainable travel, like cycling and walking. Our air will become more breathable and our cities more livable. We don’t need to wait for new techno-fixes to clear up our air, the 200-year-old bicycle can do it right now.”

The cycling charity also urged compulsory cycle proofing of roads in Clean Air Zone areas to bolster progress on dangerous particulate matter and safety for those who do choose to cycle.

Read more on Cycling UK here or understand more about the dangers courtesy of Respro below:

What pollutants are out there?

Pollution is made of two distinct categories:

  • Gases and Vapours
  • Particulates

Most types of pollution can be put into one or other category.

  1. Gases & Vapours:
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Sulphur Dioxide
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Low level Ozone
  • Hydrocarbon Chemicals

These pollutants all require an activated carbon filter media to absorb them.

  1. Particulates:
  • Asbestos dust from brake linings
  • Pollen
  • Road dust
  • Black smoke from diesel emissions
  • Any other material which is solid in nature

There are two categories of particulates: inhalable and respirable

  • Inhalable particulates: are the particles big enough to be trapped within the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes at the back of the throat.
  • Respirable particulates: are the particles that pass beyond the nasal hairs and the mucous membranes of the throat and pass into the lung sacs and subsequent blood barrier. These particulates can carry carcinogenic chemicals used in petrol (benzene, pyrene, etc) to the blood barrier.

The science of what is and isn’t dangerous

Particulate Matter comes in a wide range of sizes, measured in micrometres or ‘microns’. Like inches, metres and miles, a micron is a unit of measurement for distance, a very small distance. There are 1,000 microns in one millimetre and about the same width of a hair on your head.

Particulates that are 50+ microns in diameter can be seen by the naked eye, but as they get smaller they tend to invisibility. (The Invisible Threat)

Particulates less than 10 microns in diameter (less than PM10) start to pose a health concern because they can be inhaled into the back of the throat region causing irritation and coughing.

Particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter (less thanPM2.5) which include sub micron particulates (less than PM1) are referred to as fine or ‘respirable’  particulates and are believed to pose the greatest health risk.

Because of their size, the normal human filtering system, the nose and its nasal hair, are unable to trap these fine particulates. They pass through the upper airways and deep into the fine capillaries and air sacs which is where the oxygen exchange occurs to oxygenate the blood.

Current concerns are that very small amounts of toxic or carcinogenic chemicals like the VOC Pyrene, are carried on the particle and taken to the point of exchange, which allows for the potential of the chemical to be absorbed into the blood stream.

A typical sample of black smoke emitted from one of the more popular people carrying vehicles, would include particulates from 100 microns in size to particulates less than one micron in size.