Controversy exists about the differences in air pollution exposure and inhalation dose between mode of transport. We aimed to review air pollution exposure and inhaled dose according to mode of transport and pollutant and their effect in terms of years of life expectancy (YLE).
In this systematic review, we searched ten online databases from inception to April 13, 2016, without language or temporal restrictions, for cohort, cross-sectional, and experimental studies that compared exposure to carbon monoxide, black carbon, nitrogen dioxide, and fine and coarse particles in active commuters (pedestrian or cyclist) and commuters using motorised transport (car, motorcycle, bus, or massive motorised transport [MMT—ie, train, subway, or metro]). We excluded studies that measured air pollution exposure exclusively with biomarkers or on the basis of simulated data, reviews, comments, consensuses, editorials, guidelines, in-vitro studies, meta-analyses, ecological studies, and protocols. We extracted average exposure and commuting time per mode of transport and pollutant to calculate inhaled doses. We calculated exposure and inhaled dose ratios using active commuters as the reference and summarised them with medians and IQRs. We also calculated differences in YLE due to fine particle inhaled dose and physical activity.
We identified 4037 studies, of which 39 were included in the systematic review. Overall, car commuters had higher exposure to all pollutants than did active commuters in 30 (71%) of 42 comparisons (median ratio 1·22 [IQR 0·90–1·76]), followed by those who commuted by bus in 57 (52%) of 109 (1·0 [0·79–1·41]), by motorcycle in 16 (50%) of 32 (0·99 [0·86–1·38]), by a car with controlled ventilation settings in 39 (45%) of 86 (0·95 [0·66–1·54]), and by MMT in 21 (38%) of 55 (0·67 [0·49–1·13]). Overall, active commuters had higher inhalation doses than did commuters using motorised transport (median ratio car with controlled ventilation settings 0·16 [0·10–0·28]; car 0·22 [0·15–0·30]; motorcycle 0·38 [0·26–0·78]; MMT 0·49 [0·34–0·81]; bus 0·72 [IQR 0·50–0·99]). Commuters using motorised transport lost up to 1 year in YLE more than did cyclists.
Proximity to traffic and high air interchange increased the exposure to air pollution of commuters using motorised transport. Larger inhalation rates and commuting time increased inhaled dose among active commuters. Benefits of active commuting from physical activity are larger than the risk from an increased inhaled dose of fine particles.
Departamento Administrativo de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (COLCIENCIAS), National Health and Medical Research Council, Nestlé Nutrition (Nestec), Metagenics, and AXA.