About street dust, air pollution and cycling

Spring is the time we all cyclists wait for. When we can finally put the trainer aside and start hitting intervals and introduce those long Sunday rides again. And that feeling of power transmitting from your legs to the pedals and all the way down to the asphalt, that feeling is amazing, your bike actually moves forward! But spring is not all sunshine and rainbows. The air is usually heavily polluted during the first spring months. This because of loads of dirt and sand is still not washed away after the winter. I spoke to Matti Huutonen, meteorologist at YLE, about air pollution, street dust and how concerned we really should be about cycling outside when the air quality is poor.

Matti Huutonen, Meteorologist at YLE (picture from Twitter  @ MattiHuu_YLE  ) 

Matti Huutonen, Meteorologist at YLE (picture from Twitter @MattiHuu_YLE

The weather has been really outstanding during the last couple of days in Finland but the air quality has felt worse than in previous years. I wanted to ask Matti if this is true or does it just feel worse?
"-The air quality has been really bad in several locations throughout the week and the timing usually depends on how the weather conditions have been during winter and early spring. It is true that the street dust is in many places worse than it has been in years. For instance, according to HSY, the air quality in Järvenpää hasn't been this bad in 10 years. "

As a cyclist it is also interesting to know exactly what it is that I inhale when I gasp for air. According to Matti Huutonen, the particles that we get exposed to are so called fine PM 10 particles, that are less than 10 micrometres in size and hence not even visible to the eye. These usually consist of dust and salt. For instance, the sand spread on the streets during winter is ground over time into fine particles and is lifted to air from drying streets. This will worsen the air quality once it's spring. Also studded tires ground the asphalt and makes the breathable air even worse, especially during March and April.

I fight street dust with a DHB technical mask/scarf.

I fight street dust with a DHB technical mask/scarf.

I do not have asthma nor am I allergic but I still feel the street dust irritate my airways. I do wear a "technical" mask, but I wanted to know if Matti would have suggestions on how to battle against the street dust.
"-It's really hard or even impossible to completely protect against street dust and pollution. The only way is to simply avoid those really bad spots and stay indoors, even turning off ventilation if possible." Matti tells he uses a simple scarf himself to protect against the worst street dust and another tip, a great one, is to use the Rhino Horn. Read more about the Rhino Horn nasal cleaner. It feels nasty the first times you use it, but it really is good for cleaning your airways, also when you have a flu.

It's not the prettiest thing around, but it works!

It's not the prettiest thing around, but it works!

As we cyclists usually know a lot about the weather (I assume you also at least check 2 or 3 weather forecasts and wind-charts before heading out for a ride) I wanted to know the worst combination of weather conditions that will increase the amount of street dust. "-Dry high during spring with heavy winds is far the worst scenario. There is no humidity to bind the dust and keep it on the ground. In addition, the skies are usually clear during a high which means that the nights will be freezing during March in Finland. This again means it is impossible to use water when cleaning the roads, since it would freeze to ice during the night. Usually the only way to really get rid of street dust is a few days of rain.

street dust cycling

Matti also tells us that the winter in Southern parts of Finland, due to lack of snow made the street dust problem even worse. "-We didn't have a lot of snow in Southern Finland but we were still forced to use a lot of sand on the roads to make them less slippery. Since there is no melting snow on the roads, there is no water to tie the dust either."

The warning charts won't warn you about bad air quality, this according to Matti since the changes in air quality are really rapidly changeable and local. "-We include the air quality charts in our TV shows as a separate chart, and those measures are always observations from past hours".

Last but not least, we don't want to have rain once we finally got the sun here, but I wanted to know if Matti could tell us about the forecasts, will there be any relief when it comes to street dust?
"-According to the forecasts from yesterday (Friday 13th of March) we won't see any rapid changes in the near future (13.3.-17.3). It will stay sunny, dry and clear, meaning the nights will be freezing keeping the air quality worsened during the upcoming days.

Föri taking people across River Aura, Turku

Föri taking people across River Aura, Turku

So wear a mask or a scarf if you're pedaling outside, it really is not healthy breathing in all that crap!

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Enjoy the sun and ride those bikes!