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Air Pollution in Road Tunnels
  1. R. E. Waller,
  2. B. T. Commins,
  3. P. J. Lawther
  1. Medical Research Council Air Pollution Research Unit, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London


    As a part of a study of pollution of the air by motor vehicles, measurements have been made in two London road tunnels during periods of high traffic density. The concentrations of smoke and polycyclic hydrocarbons found there are much higher than the average values in Central London, but they are of the same order of magnitude as those occurring during temperature inversions on winter evenings when smoke from coal fires accumulates at a low level.

    An attempt has been made to relate the concentration of each pollutant to the type and amount of traffic. Both diesel and petrol vehicles make some contribution to the amounts of smoke and polycyclic hydrocarbons found in the tunnels, but in the case of smoke, fluoranthene, 1: 2-benzpyrene, pyrene, and 3: 4-benzpyrene, the concentrations appear to be more closely related to the density of diesel traffic than to that of petrol traffic. The concentrations of lead and carbon monoxide have also been determined, and these are very closely related to the density of petrol traffic. During the morning and evening rush hours the mean concentration of carbon monoxide was just over 100 p.p.m. and peak values up to 500 p.p.m. were recorded at times. Oxides of nitrogen were determined in some of the experiments and there was always much more nitric oxide than nitrogen dioxide. Eye irritation was experienced but its cause was not investigated.

    The concentration of pollution in the tunnels does not appear to be high enough to create any special hazards for short-term exposures. The amosphere at peak periods may become very dirty and unpleasant and the concentration of carbon monoxide would be sufficient to produce some effect over a period of several hours' continuous exposure. The total emission of pollution from road vehicles must still be small in comparison with that from coal fires, but the effect of traffic on the concentration of smoke, polycyclic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and lead in the air of city streets deserves continued study.

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