Pollution risk for professional drivers

The Research Working Party heard the results of a study that assesses the exposure of professional drivers in the UK to diesel exhaust pollution and looked at possible solutions.

Professional drivers make up the largest occupation type in the UK, and they are exposed to diesel fuel pollutants as part of their job, which are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, guest speaker Shanon Lim, PhD student from Imperial College London told the WCRAQ Research Working Party meeting on 20 September.

The Research working party is chaired by Dr James Tate, Associate Professor at the University of Leeds, and its key aims concern the reliability of MOTs and DPFs, driver occupational health, wellbeing, and exposure – particularly reducing that exposure and its attendant health risks.

Shanon explained that current UK law states that employers are required to assess whether employees are at risk from exposure to carcinogens (such as diesel exhaust). If employees are found to be at risk, employers should work to reduce this exposure to as low a level as possible.

Shanon’s research includes characterising the diesel exhaust exposure of professional drivers in London during a typical working day and identifying determinants of drivers’ exposure to formulate exposure reduction strategies.

The study recruited 141 drivers across seven different sectors, each driver was monitored for 96 hours at one-minute intervals to identify the levels of exposure to pollution. Using personal GPS-linked black carbon sensors, Shanon was able to segment data into four categories: driving at work, not driving at work, commuting, and at home. The results showed that exposure to diesel exhaust was four times higher driving at work compared to pollution exposure at home.

Outlining data from the study, Shanon explained that ventilation makes a huge difference to a driver’s pollution exposure. Recommendations for reducing pollution exposure include changing ventilation settings (driving with closed windows and using the recirculating air function), route selection (avoiding congestion and tunnels), and upgrading fleets to vehicles that have better ventilation filters and an airtight cabin.

The question was asked about whether non-tail pipe emissions are differentiated from diesel exhaust pollution. James explained that monitoring non-tailpipe emissions and identifying the pollutants’ origin is a larger-scale operation that requires the use of gravimetric analysis of particles.

James added that DPFs are working, but questioned whether we can see this in health impacts, and suggested that therefore policies need to be changed in other areas to achieve further gains in combating pollution and vehicle emission standards to address health and wellbeing.

Originally published in the FVI magazine