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Study Finds Tunnel Concentrates Ultrafine Particle Concentration by Up to 1000 Times

Road tunnels can contain ultrafine (<100 nm) particles in concentration levels so high they have the potential to harm drivers and passengers, according to a recently-published study by researchers in Australia.

The study, which appeared in the July issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment, measured ultrafine particle concentration levels outside a vehicle travelling through the 4-km, twinbore (eastbound and westbound) M5 East tunnel in Sydney.

Sampling was undertaken using a condensation particle counter (CPC) mounted in a vehicle traversing both tunnel bores at various times of day from May through July, 2006. Supplementary measurements were conducted in February, 2008. The study involved more than 300 trips through the four kilometers of the M5 East tunnel, with journeys lasting up to 26 minutes, depending on traffic congestion.

What this study aimed to do was identify the concentration levels found in the tunnel. It generated a huge body of data on the concentrations and the results show that, at times, the levels are up to 1000 times higher than in urban ambient conditions.

—Professor Lidia Morawska, Queensland University of Technology

Morawska said drivers and occupants of new vehicles which had their windows closed were safer than people travelling in older vehicles.

People who are driving older vehicles which are inferior in terms of tightness and also those riding motorcycles or driving convertibles, these people are exposed to incredibly high concentrations. When compared with similar studies reported previously, the measurements here were among the highest recorded concentrations.

—Lidia Morawska

Morawska said tunnels were becoming an increasingly necessary infrastructure component in many cities across the world.

When governments are building tunnels for urban design reasons, they should also consider the impact these tunnels are having on the environment and to people’s health. The study highlights why governments need to consider how they are going to deal with the air pollution levels inside the tunnel and removal of ultrafine particles in the outside environment.

—Lidia Morawska

The study was conducted jointly by Professor Richard de Dear and his doctoral candidate, Mr Luke Knibbs from Macquarie University, in collaboration with Professor Morawska and Dr Kerrie Mengersen from QUT.

Resources

  • Luke D. Knibbs, Richard J. de Dear, Lidia Morawska and Kerrie L. Mengersen (2009) On-road ultrafine particle concentration in the M5 East road tunnel, Sydney, Australia. Atmospheric Environment Volume 43, Issues 22-23, Pages 3510-3519 doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2009.04.029

Comments

MG

Cannot believe that to do this measurement, actually processing data from a counter, it took FOUR PhDs.
In electronics industry such tasks are assigned to a single engineer.
Obviously they don't work in private sector.

me.yahoo.com/a/sQTBUlM11sla.zxixwBFoh3L2nIi

The article was very unclear at first, was "the Road tunnels can contain ultrafine particles" referring to tunnel rock dust or auto emissions. They never said, but it later referred to vehicles.

Next subject, vehicle emissions will be irrelevant in about 10 years with all the electric cars coming out.
So there.

Michael Pereckas

Cannot believe that to do this measurement, actually processing data from a counter, it took FOUR PhDs.
In electronics industry such tasks are assigned to a single engineer.
Obviously they don't work in private sector.

Obviously, you don't know how academia works. Everyone who had any contact with the work at all has to get credit on the paper. Doesn't mean four people with PhDs worked on it full time for a month. Probably the grad student did all the actual labor. The one engineer in the electronics industry, like the grad student, has a boss, and probably talked to some other guy about the measurement, and maybe borrowed some piece of equipment from someone. And if he wrote it up for formal publication he'd have to name them all, too.

SVW

I wonder how easy MG thinks it is to collect ultra-fine particles? I suggest he try it some time in a fully equipped lab. When MG can do that with any degree of confidence, then try it in a moving vehicle. Then enough times to have a representative range of traffic conditions. Oh, and knowing the lavish Australian academic funding available, do it for nothing.

MG

@ SVW,
it is said:
Sampling was undertaken using a condensation particle counter (CPC) mounted in a vehicle traversing both tunnel bores at various times of day ...

It implies that the proper measuring instrument already existed. What they did was the measurements at various times of day, week, month, year. Then statistically processed the data, compared them with existing data for urban areas - lots of work/data, that's why it took so long (2+yrs).
If they were to develop the measuring instrument, it would have been a completely different story.
So they got instrument (basically a counter probably using different filters or modules for different chemicals or particle size), instruction manual and often user support from manufacturer.
Far simpler than when you need to collect data from multiple inputs at the same time, then analyze interdependancies, etc.

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