Colorado State University conducts study of pollution on commuters

Sady Swanson

(Photo Credit: )
A study participant wears one of the backpacks used in the study while biking. The backpacks contain multiple sensors to measure the air pollution commuters are exposed to while biking or driving. (Photo Credit: Taylor Carpenter )

Biking to work or school may help the environment but it might not be helping the biker, a Colorado State University study suggests.

The  Commuter Study, led by John Volckens and Jennifer Peel out of CSU’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, studies the health effects of air pollution on commuters around Fort Collins.


The $2.1 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to gain information on the type of air pollution people are exposed to depending on how they commute and which route they take, Peel said.

“In your working lifetime, you’re going to spend about two years commuting,” Volckens said. “Two years of breathing in bad air is a long time and if our study can generate information that can help you make informed decisions to reduce your exposure, that’s great.”

In each phase, participants wear backpacks including multiple sensors that measured air pollutants emitted by vehicles — including carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

According to Volckens, in phase one, which occurred in late 2013, participants took their own routes to school or work while the backpacks took snapshots of the air and measured the pollutants they were exposed to.

In phase two, the study attempted to make a model that would predict a person’s exposure to air pollution depending on their route.

Aaron Fodge, parking and transportation services manager at CSU, participated in phase two of the study. He hoped the study helps guide people in deciding which routes to take around the city.

“It’s exciting that we have real life transportation research being done at CSU,” Fodge said. “It got me thinking about the routes I take.”

In phase three, which began on September 15, participants were given random prescribed routes to travel, and focused on the health effects the pollution causes.

So far, no conclusions on health effects could be made from the results, according to Peel and Volckens. They did discover that there is a difference in pollutant exposure between drivers and bicyclists.

“Bicyclists are exposed to more particulate matter than drivers,” Volkens said. “On the other hand, drivers are exposed to more carbon monoxide than bicyclists.”


The study, which will run through 2016, will be accepting new participants this winter for the last round of data collection.

Collegian Reporter Sady Swanson can be reached at or on Twitter @Sadyswan