South-East London Residents Study

End date: 
Monday, 3 December, 2012
The Aim: 

To help residents of South-East London understand how their exposure to air pollution related to their daily activities

The Participants: 

This study involved seven residents of South-East London:

  •  an ambulance driver,
  •  a cycle courier,
  •  a home worker,
  •  a nursery toddler,
  •  a pensioner,
  •  an office worker,
  •  and a school pupil.


The Method: 

On the same day in November, small portable air quality monitoring instruments were given to seven South-East London residents to carry with them for 24 hours as they went about their normal days. The instruments measured black carbon. Most of the black carbon in London comes from diesel vehicle exhaust. At the same time, GPS watches tracked the residents, determining where they were and how they were travelling as the measurements were taken.


The Results: 

Analysis of day’s activities and monitoring results clearly showed that although all seven volunteers lived in the same part of London, their daily exposure varied significantly.

The ambulance driver suffered the largest amount of pollution – the result of sitting for long periods of time in traffic on London’s busy streets, with exhaust fumes from the vehicles in front entering his cab. Surprisingly perhaps, the cycle courier’s exposure was only half that of the ambulance driver.

The school pupil encountered more pollution travelling on the bus than walking home on quieter streets. For the toddler, more than a quarter of the day’s exposure occurred in just two hours, during the journey to and from her nursery in a push chair. 

The office worker was the one who could take most comfort – the lowest pollution levels were within the worker’s air conditioned building, despite its central London location.

The pensioner’s exposure levels were relatively high as he travelled around London more than the other volunteers.

Despite all living in the same part of London, the resident with the lowest cumulative pollution exposure for the day was more than 2.5 times lower than the person with the highest.


The Outcome: 

This was a pilot study for the BreatheLondon project. The results were shown at a public meeting and were so well received that we decided to continue and expand the project. The results were engaging and immediately interpretable. Consequently, they have since appeared in numerous articles and presentations about public exposure to air pollution and how this can be reduced.


Contact Details: 

Project Coordinator: Dr Ben Barratt