Baltimore Sun

Biking and breathing may be hazardous in the city

As if people who ride their bikes to work through downtown Baltimore, or downtown anywhere, don't have enough to worry about:

A report in the U.K. Times says that bikers in urban areas inhale tens of millions of toxic nanoparticles every time they take a breath. That's five times more than drivers or walkers.


We read about this on the website Grist and had to take a look. The research was done by outfitting the bikers with masks that measured pollution going in. The researchers at Belgium's Hassalt University say it's a first-of-its-kind study, which was just published in Atmospheric Environment.

Not surprisingly, bikers breath more deeply so they take in a lot more pollution. Bearthing such nanoparticles, mainly containing car exhaust, can cause heart disease and respiratory problems.


The researchers compared the findings from bikers in Brussels and a small town called Mol and found the city cyclers inhaled about five times the pollution. They also compared the pollution inhaled by car drivers on the same route and found that the bikers inhaled four to five times more particles. They expected the results would be similar in any big city.

The researchers said it was hard to directly link the pollution to health problems because of the lag time in developing illnesses. They noted it took decades to link smoking with cancer.

Still, they said a recent study in London was expected to show high levels of nanoparticles can be linked to a higher risk of heart disease. The particles are so small that they can penetrate the lungs and get into the blood stream and gather in organs, according to the story. Other studies have shown that particulate pollution can cause asthma attacks and other more immediate problems.

Masks won't stop the small particles.

The researchers say biking groups are not too happy about the results, but they point out that there are many health benefits to biking. (The lead researcher said he was a biker, but also a scientist.)

So, the researchers didn't say it was less healthy to ride a bike than drive to work -- maybe because they don't know. Would this stop you?

Baltimore Sun file photo of Bike to Work Day in Baltimore/Lloyd Fox