Put on car AC, reduce exposure to pollutants — Report

Commuters face heavy exposure to pollutants on the roads daily

RECENT research has proven that using your car’s AC while commuting reduces definitely reduces your exposure to pollutants in the air.

This fact may be a no-brainer to some, however, there scientific results to prove it.

It has been noted that travelling in a vehicle can be hazardous to your health, exposing drivers to an increased amount of air pollutants that have been linked to a whole host of medical maladies, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues and even lung cancer.

According to The Source, a publication of Washington University in St.Louis, researchers at the university conducted practical tests on the streets.

Leavey and Nathan Reed, a PhD candidate, worked together with PhD candidate Sameer Patel and Pratim Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor and chair of the SEAS department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering. With assistance from Biswas’s Aerosol and Air Quality Research Lab, they used portable instruments and  sensors to monitor and simultaneously measure the pollutant levels of their car’s indoor cabin air and the air directly outside of the car during their own daily commutes.

“As aerosol scientists, we had access to state-of-the-art air monitoring equipment,” Reed said. “Once we began measuring inside and outside of the car, and started getting numbers back,  we were able to confirm our hypothesis that by controlling our car’s ventilation we could mitigate some pollutant risk.”

Using their simultaneous measurement approach, Leavey and Reed were able to test a number of variables while driving to and from Washington University over a four-month period starting in 2014. Using a dashcam, they were able to identify a given pollutant concentration each time they were: stuck behind a bus or truck, amid traffic on a freeway, stopped at a red light, or driving past restaurants or construction work. They also used different ventilation settings inside their cars: driving with the windows open, windows closed, with fan on, and with the air conditioning on.

After crunching all the data, pollutant measurements, and corresponding weather conditions, the researchers zeroed in on the best approach to cutting your risk of pollutant exposure while out on the commute. Using the AC reduced the pollutants in the vehicle by 20-34 percent, depending on the different metrics examined, as well as outdoor concentrations, weather and road conditions.

“We found a significant difference between running the fan versus running the AC. The AC is pulling outside air, running through the same filter with the same ventilation path as the fan. But there’s one difference: when the AC is operating: You have a cold evaporator that is cooling the air as it passes,” Reed said. “This cold surface attracts the pollutant particles, and they deposit there, as opposed to diffusing it into the air you’re breathing.”

That particle deposition offered varying degrees of pollution protection, but was most boosted at points of elevated exposure during the commute, such as following a bus or large truck.

When windows were closed, and following a bus, the particle concentration in the outdoor air was three times higher than the indoor air. What’s more, no in-cabin carbon dioxide concentrations were measured during 75 percent of the journeys made with the AC on.


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