Photo of bicycle and pedestrian

How to avoid toxic fumes from transport

Traffic fumes are deadly – particularly those from diesel vehicles. Here are 8 ways to protect yourself from air pollution. 
  Published:  26 Apr 2017    |      2 minute read

Children are particularly at risk from air pollution - there is a risk of their lungs not developing properly. Air pollution is also linked to asthma, premature births, lung cancer and heart disease. Every year, dirty air causes up to 36,000 early deaths in the UK.

When it comes to air pollution in towns and cities, road transport is the biggest problem and diesel the worst of all. But it's a problem we can solve over time.

Meanwhile, these tips will help reduce your exposure to toxic – and often invisible – fumes in our air.

1. Drivers and passengers are exposed to massive pollution, so try leaving the car at home 

Surprisingly, being shut inside a car often doesn’t protect you from diesel fumes. An experiment by the Healthy Air Campaign found that a car driver was exposed to more than 3 times the amount of air pollution as a person walking the same busy route, and 5 times more than a cyclist.    

2. Stay back from the road edge 

Air pollution can vary even within a few metres from the source. The more space you can put between yourself and the edge of a busy road, the better.   

3. Walk or go by bicycle 

Some 69% of journeys in the UK are short – 5 miles or under. But the vast majority of these are made by car. Think about how much pollution we could wipe out by walking or cycling more. Pedestrians and cyclists tend to avoid the higher concentrations of pollution that motorists and their passengers are exposed to. And every car journey avoided is improving the air for everyone. If you fancy cycling but don't own a bike, check out YouWell to see if there's a place to rent bikes near you.

4. Avoid busy roads 

Sustrans helps you choose low-pollution walking and cycling routes. Similarly, on London's Cycle Route Planner or on your local council website you can opt for a “moderate route” which avoids busy main roads when possible. Other than walking around with an oxygen tank, this is the best tip for attempting to lower your exposure. 

5. Be wary of congestion 

A queue of traffic creates a stream of air pollution. This can get sucked in through vehicle vents and remain trapped inside (with you).  

6. Get pollution alerts 

Some days are worse than others. Some are much worse. Twitter feeds such as @DefraUKAir provide a nationwide forecast. And if you're in London and the South East you can sign up at Airtext for text message, email or voicemail alerts about upcoming pollution. If you suffer from health issues that are exacerbated by high pollution, getting advance warning can give real peace of mind.  

7. Idling isn't attractive 

Cars waiting with their engine turned on is called idling. For example, you often see a queue of vehicles idling outside school gates. It creates a lot of pollution.

Can you work with a school or your local authority to encourage people to turn off their engines when they are waiting? 

8. Ditch air fresheners and use natural cleaning products 

Indoor air pollution is also a real issue. Sources include smoking, boilers, gas cookers and heaters, chemicals from new furniture, air fresheners and household cleaning products. Make sure your home is well ventilated and try to use natural ways to clean. 

We can all take steps to avoid the worst of the UK’s dirty air. But the problem won’t go away without tackling it at source. It’s time politicians and big business took responsibility.