Photo: tunedin123 / 123rf
Recently, a study by the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) has found that the air around bus-stops may actually be more toxic than haze. During haze season, we start obsessing about the amount of PM 2.5 pollutants in the air, but the particles found around bus-stops are 100 times smaller than the infamous PM 2.5 particles.
These ultrafine particles are formed when gases from vehicles' exhaust pipes react with the air, and because they are so small, our bodies are not able to filter them out ─ which means they can go all the way directly to our lungs.
Think about it. If you make a two-way commute every day, spending just 10 minutes twice a day waiting for your bus amounts to 20 minutes of exposure to these harmful compounds. That's as good as standing 7 hours at the bus-stop, breathing in the fumes, every month.
Furthermore, their research has also shown that the concentration of PM2.5 particles at bus stops was 1.5 to 3 times higher than at average ambient levels. It's a double whammy however you look at it; the time you spend at the bus-stop is not only plaguing your body with haze-equivalent PM 2.5 particles, it's also bomboarding you with even more nanoscopic and harmful toxic particles.
While it's not possible to completely eliminate your exposure to this air pollution, there's still a lot we can do minimise our risk.
ONLY WAIT AT THE BUS-STOP AT THE LAST MINUTE
Download apps like Citymapper (free for both Android and iOS), SG BusLeh (free for both Android and iOS) which will show bus arrival timings. If your home/office/shopping mall etc is really near to the bus-stop, stay indoors until about two minutes of the expected arrival time. Or if there aren't other enclosed places to take refuge from, step back and away from the road to minimise your exposure to the fumes.
EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE ROUTES
If your daily commute involves at least one bus transfer along a traffic congested road, consider if you can adjust your routine to transfer at a different bus-stop ─ one that doesn't usually have so many buses waiting to pick up passengers, or with more greenery (plants help to trap the harmful gases and particles), or maybe one that lets you wait several metres away from the bus-stop.
DON'T WALK ALONG THE ROAD
While it's good to walk more, don't do it at the risk of breathing in the toxic fumes. Cut through parks, walk under blocks, go underground.
STOP USING THE BICYCLE AS YOUR MAIN COMMUTE
Although cycling is a great form of exercise, the hour or so you spend commuting to work on your bike along major roads is going to really spike your risk of pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. Unless your route is quite scenic and car-free, you might want to consider doing cycling as a leisure activity at parks.
GET AN AIR PURIFIER FOR THE CAR
Since car filters are not 100 per cent efficient in removing all the toxic gases and particles from vehicle exhaust, you should consider getting a mini air purifier if you and your family spend a lot of time in the car.
This pint-sized unit is specially designed to fit into cars’ drink holders and draws power from the cigarette light slot ─ perfect for keeping your family safe from dangerous PM2.5 haze particles, allergens and bacteria.
Cado MP-C20U air purifier. Available from October 2016, call Massmark International, tel: 6747-1102, for price and stockists.
INVEST IN A REALLY GOOD MASK
Although haze is a short-term, albeit annual, problem in Singapore, bus exhaust fumes are the more pervsaive, insiduous health issue. If there's a limit to how much lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk, you should really consider wearing a mask when you're out on the road. Although N95 masks, which are protective against PM2.5 particles, may not give you perfect coverage from the ultra fine particles found in the toxic air at bus-stops, it does help to at least lower your exposure to PM 2.5 particles in the air.