Cyclists Suck Cancer-Causing Car Exhaust

Longtime readers might remember Lael as the first person other than me to have “editor” status here on Mission Mission. Nowadays she writes about environmental concerns on a blog called Clamorous Fall (it’s what comes a little while after the Silent Spring), where yesterday she took issue with all the fumes we breathe as cyclists:

I don’t mean to be unreasonable, I even like the smell of exhaust.  I love the smell of gasoline and breathe extra deeply at gas stations.  But when I’m out on the road, all I can think about is benzene, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter that is flowing into my lungs.  Some may choose to buy a “supercool hightech anti-pollution mask” and others may choose to only cycle in rural areas, but these are not really good options for most of us.

Read on for more science and advocacy and pictures of the “supercool hightech anti-pollution mask.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Cycling

5 Comments on “Cyclists Suck Cancer-Causing Car Exhaust”

  1. stiiv Says:

    Are y’all really this young? My god, you may not remember what it used to be like.

    See, cars used to pollute a lot. Like a whole lot. Now they pollute much less. As older cars die off, they’ll pollute even less. The problem has been and is being solved by the heavy, heavy hand of government.

  2. triple0 Says:

    Not really… (long response, but hey, might as well share it.)

    Remember PCBs – those chemicals that made everyone stop using nalgenes a few years ago? Those are in the dashboard and other plastics inside a car — and they heat up from being inside the car acting, ostensibly, as a greenhouse.

    A/C’s in autos aren’t actually filtering out toxins/particulate matter, and sucking in from, basically, the same point of where a cyclist breathes in traffic. So, the polluted air enters the car cabin, but there’s no cross-winds to scatter the bad stuff — just straight in the cabin for drivers and passengers to sit in and inhale.

    There’s more science behind this than ‘car exhaust is stinky’ —

    For those who don’t want to read the full report:
    – [exposure to VOCs] are 1.7 times higher [in the car cabin] than at the side of the road. Concentrations inside and immediately outside vehicle [where bikers are] were roughly the same.
    – most in-car VOCs come from outside exhaust not self-pollution (except from smoking)
    – Research shows that CO levels inside cars are consistently higher than in the ambient air.
    – On urban streets, interstates, and rural roads the median concentrations [of CO] were 13 [inside the car], 11 [immediately outside the car (where bikes are)], and 4 [on sidewalks] ppm.
    – [the range of exposure to NOX ranged on] average in-city in-car concentrations from 31 to 90.8 ppb. In-city bikers breather 49.6 to 81.4 ppb and pedestrians breathed 55.3 ppb, on average.

    So, yeah — I’ll take the reduced pollution OUTSIDE the car and get my exercise, sunshine, and fun to boot.

  3. jd Says:

    Great to read this. As a regular cyclist, I’ve recently been thinking about this a lot too as I ride sucking in other people’s exhaust while they could care less. Weird that we as a society think it’s okay to just pollute the air for others (and ourselves).

    I try to imagine the first guys who invented the internal combustion engine showing it off:

    “So what do you do with all those toxic gases it creates?”
    “Aw yeah, that. Well, we just blow them out the back. How could that possibly be a problem?”
    “Ah, good point. Sounds good to me … Well, let’s mass produce it then! No problems here!”

    Electric cars do help with this one though. Even though I really don’t think electric cars solve the main problem with cars (their contribution to the obesity epidemic, their inherently inefficient nature (3000 lbs to move 200 lb!), their dehumanizing effect on people, and the crappy unlivable urban design they require), at least it helps with the one issue of air pollution.

  4. SCUM Says:


  5. Well, I’m pretty sure they suck SOMEthing!


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