Is commuting harmful to your health?

Jeremy Sarnat
Jeremy Sarnat uses equipment developed by Georgia Tech to measure the pollutants Atlanta commuters are exposed to inside their cars.

Jeremy Sarnat has an ACE up his sleeve when it comes measuring how commuting affects the health of Atlanta drivers. It also helped him garner a major award for environmental health research.

Sarnat leads the EPA-funded Atlanta Commuters’ Exposure (ACE) study. Using sophisticated air analyzers and other instrumentation developed at Georgia Tech, ACE measures what pollutants drivers are exposed to inside their cars.

Participants go through a two-hour commute in the morning and again in the evening on two different days, driving along “scripted” routes provided by Rollins and Georgia Tech researchers. Most of the time, they drive Atlanta’s busy interstates, although they also traverse some surface streets.

Each of the 100 study participants undergoes a battery of tests, including blood gas and other cardiovascular measurements, the day before their commute and again after finishing their afternoon drive. Half of those enrolled in the study have asthma.

The information gathered on how specific pollutants affect the drivers, and under what circumstances, can help inform discussions about traffic patterns, highway expansion, land use, and health, says Sarnat, associate professor of environmental health.

“Even the smallest changes in oxidative stress among the participants tells us something,” he says. “We may be able to help individuals who are at greater risk so that they can make informed decisions about when, for instance, to start their commutes or which routes to take.”

Sarnat received national attention this year when the International Society of Exposure Science (ISES) presented him with the 2011 Joan M. Daisey Outstanding Young Scientist Award for his work in human exposure ­analysis. The award honors the memory of Daisey, an ISES founder and nationally recognized expert on indoor air quality.
Mike King

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