If thinking about the state of the environment gets you so stressed that you want to run yourself a bubble bath and light a scented candle, well, you might just want to think twice about that. The bubble bath is fine, but the candle could be bringing air pollution into your home at triple the level (up to 99 micrograms per cubic metre) than you might experience standing at a busy roadside in London (21µg/m3).
In fact, some candles create a similar particle-dispersal effect to running a diesel engine in your living room for an hour. The candle’s particles aren’t as toxic as diesel, but being small enough to enter the bloodstream, they have been linked to several health concerns including Alzheimer’s, asthma, cardiovascular disease, birth defects and low birth weight.
While all new and used cars have vastly different levels of emissions, it’s no secret that moving to cleaner fuels would be better for the planet and for our own lungs. Yes, the motor trade is responsible for much of the CO2 exposure we experience daily, but who do you think is getting the worst of it?
Many of us would assume that pedestrians and cyclists, being on the outside along with the motor vehicles’ exhaust pipes, would get the largest dose of emissions, but recent investigations by a Times journalist have suggested otherwise.
Ben Webster, the environmental editor for The Times newspaper, used a gadget to measure the quantity of black carbon in the air while he cycled to work. Commuting in central London is about as fume filled as it gets in the UK, and though he did experience peaks of 271µg/m3 on the worst parts of his journey, he was also able to reduce his exposure by 90% when taking quieter roads.
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Across 24 hours, he encountered a total of 2,600µg/m3 min of black carbon, which certainly sounds a lot, but it pales in significance when compared to the 13,000mcg/m3 min that lorry driver Dean Jones encountered in his typical working day – though Jones’s day does involve being in a vehicle for nine hours, and Webster presumably didn’t spend nine hours on his bike, so it isn’t a definitive comparison.
There’s no insurance policy when it comes to making the right choices for health and for the environment. All we can do is to do our best, like driving only when you need to. Check out emissions ratings for new and used cars to choose an efficient model. Share rides with others, and take public transport, walk, or cycle when you can.
And perhaps cross that scented candle off your Christmas list, because if you wouldn’t be happy to run a car engine in the bathroom with the window closed, then perhaps you should think again about whether the scent of English lavender or Spanish oranges is really worth it.