According to the World Health Organization, air pollution kills an estimated seven million people every year. Children are particularly vulnerable as polluting particulates are more highly concentrated near the ground at lower heights.
Now, in a bid to tackle the problem, researchers from Imperial College London have designed an innovative curved barrier that protects city dwellers from the damaging effects of air pollution.
The scientists used airflow modeling techniques to study the effects of unique roadside structures in order to develop a design for deflecting particulates away from pedestrians. Their findings are published in the journal Cities & Health.
One of the researchers, Dr. Tilly Collins, from Imperial’s Centre for Environmental Policy, noticed severe pollution in the air while watching her child playing sports in a school playground near a busy London road.
"I thought to myself, what could be done? And done now? So, I started researching the effect of walls along roads," Dr. Collins explained in a press statement. "It became evident that along the pedestrian side of these roadside walls, there are vortices where the air quality can actually be even worse as the pollutants get trapped in them."
Curved structures can mitigate air pollution in the short term
Dr. Collins, along with Dr. Huw Woodward, also from the Centre for Environmental Policy, and Agamemnon Otero of Energy Garden, explored ideas for urban design that would mitigate the vortex effects and therefore improve air quality for pedestrians.
The researchers found that curved structures are more effective at dispersing and reflecting pollutants back towards roads. They propose relatively inexpensive structures inspired by the curved sound-walls found alongside motorways in Germany and the Netherlands.
These structures would also mitigate noise pollution and would act as scaffolds for green infrastructure in large cities.
Dr. Collins says that though much of the scientific and engineering community's attention is now on "successfully reducing exhaust fumes, there are these things we can do now to protect our children."
Despite the challenges, the researchers do believe their project has the potential to positively impact urban design and help keep pedestrians safe from the polluting effects of internal combustion engines.