With one simple click it is on their steering wheel: the sensor with which they can measure the particulate matter content in the air. Students from the Hyperion Lyceum in Amsterdam and the Sint Michaël College in Zaandam rode around on the so-called sniffing bike for a week to research the air quality in that area.
On Thursday they presented the results of their project at Hyperion College to the province of North Holland. They carried out the research in collaboration with, among others, the RIVM, Hollandse Luchten and Globe Nederland. Globe is a global research program for high school students.
Posters in shades of green and blue depicting the results of the study hang on the wall. The research was easy, the students say. Just a matter of clicking the sensor on your handlebars, turning it on and off you go. A blue light during the bike ride means good news: the air quality is high. With a yellow or red light, it is better to take a different route, because the air then contains a lot of particulate matter.
Particulate matter is a collective name for all small dust particles in the air. They invade airways and blood vessels. Long-term exposure to particulate matter can cause cardiovascular disease and lung damage. With short-term exposure, the resistance of the airways can decrease. A 2018 study showed that damage to the heart and lungs already occurs if someone breathes polluted air from traffic for two hours.
Students of Sint Michaël College noticed that the particulate matter content was very high, especially during the morning rush hour. It was different in the capital: there was more particulate matter in the evening rush hour.
Isa used to cycle past tracks and factories to Sint Michaël College. After the research she cycles through the polder. “I have to cycle for half an hour every day, so it’s better for my health if I take a different route,” she says.
Selma, who has done research in the same group as Isa, notices when there is a lot of particulate matter in the air. She laughs: “When I go to school, I pass a cocoa factory and it smells like chocolate.” Perhaps not the most unpleasant air to breathe, but it is not very good for your health.
Increase awareness. That advice is given by all the groups that participated. The students were surprised how few people are concerned with the influence of particulate matter on their health. On the other hand, they understand: before they did their research, they didn’t know what it was either.
The government should do more to raise awareness, say the students. Air purifiers along roads should be able to help, they think. Filters remove the particulate matter from the air, improving air quality.
How to solve the particulate matter peaks during rush hour is a difficult question. Setting different working hours is an option, suggest students standing by the poster on the wall. But that will not reduce emissions throughout the day, say others. Electric driving can solve that.
The students found the research interesting to do, but think that there is nothing they can do themselves to change things on a large scale. Maurik van Hal, knowledge and innovation coordinator for a healthy learning environment at the province of North Holland, understands the feeling of powerlessness.
“With this project you may not solve the major problems, but it will have an effect on your health and that is also important,” he says. When Van Hal has finished speaking, the students’ conversation turns back to the order of the day: the test they took and how it went.
Other schools in the province are also involved in the investigation. They will present the results at another time.
Residents in Eindhoven measure the air quality while cycling
Thanks to a cargo bike full of sensors, municipal officials or residents can now measure the air quality of the living environment.
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