Study claims air pollution from traffic increases blood pressure

1 Dec 2023

Image: © Семен Саливанчук/

The results from the study also suggest that adding HEPA filters to vehicles can significantly reduce the impact of traffic-related air pollution.

A new study claims that air pollution – including that from high levels of traffic – can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Various experts claim that air pollution can impact people’s health. But the researchers in this study – funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Institutes of Health – claim that there is limited information about in-vehicle exposure to air pollution.

The study aimed to test if particles from traffic pollution could be reduced by the use of filters – such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

To test this theory, researchers recorded the blood pressure of participants in three-minute periods before, during and up to 24 hours after a drive. The study conducted these tests 14 times.

The study involved 16 participants who took scripted commutes through Washington between 2014 and 2016. The team noted that the results are limited due to the small sample size and seasonal imbalances.

For two days, air from the road was allowed to enter the vehicles normally, while the third day had HEPA filtration installed into the vehicles.

The results of the study suggest blood pressure among the participants rose within one hour after exposure to traffic-related air pollution and that higher blood pressure was still detected up to 24 hours after.

The researchers also claim that the use of HEPA filtration reduced particle count by 86pc. After one hour, the blood pressure for unfiltered drivers was 95pc higher on average than the blood pressure of filtered drivers.

The research suggests that the filtration of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) could mitigate the adverse effects traffic pollution causes to blood pressure. However, the team noted that further studies are required with larger testing samples and in different settings.

Last month, Ireland’s EPA released a national service that lets people check the air quality of their area anywhere in Ireland.

The EPA said there are some “concerning” air quality issues in Ireland, such as the incidence of fine particulate matter released from the burning of solid fuel and nitrogen dioxide from vehicle emissions, both of which are detrimental to health.

Last year, it was revealed that Dublin Airport was Ireland’s most polluting facility in 2021, according to a global inventory of emissions data released at the United Nation’s climate conference COP27 (COP28 got underway in Dubai this week). The report claims the site emitted more than 1m tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in one year.

The Drogheda cement plant in Co Louth emitted 983,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2021, making it Ireland’s second-largest polluter. It was followed by the Ballyconnell cement plant in Co Cavan, which accounted for around 955,000 tonnes of emissions.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic