CREAL. Centre for research in environmental epidemiology


Home > News

Back to newsNews

Researchers detect students are exposed to high levels of air pollution during trips to school

Press Release

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Researchers detect students are exposed to high levels of air pollution during trips to school

Using a new smartphone app and air pollution sensor researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) have found that levels of air pollution were more than twice as high during the journeys to school (2.8 microgram/m3) than at home (1.3 microgram/m3) and the levels at school were slightly higher than at home (1.3 microgram/m3) in the city of Barcelona.

Dr. Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, head of the program Air Pollution at CREAL, an allied ISGlobal research centre, and the lead author of the paper, says that "for the first time we used novel smartphone apps (now only used for research but in future can be downloaded for everyone) and sensor technology to measure positioning, physical activity and air pollution simultaneously in children and the results show that air pollution levels are quite variable during the day". He goes on to say that "when children are closer to cars during journeys to school their air pollution levels increase significantly. Also when they are at school during the day their air pollutions are higher than at home, probably because there are more cars around during the day."

Researchers conclude that an average children received 46% of their air pollution at home, 32% at school, 13% during their trips to school and 8% elsewhere.

29 schools from Barcelona
All this information has been obtained during two normal week days in 2012-2013. 54 school children (aged 7-11) from 29 different schools around Barcelona (included in the BREATHE project) were given a smartphone with CalFit software to obtain information on their location and physical activity level, and a small pollution sensor, the Micro-aethalometer to measure their black carbon levels simultaneously and continuously. Black carbon levels are a good indicator for air pollution levels, particularly for air pollution coming from diesel cars.

The work expands on earlier work where Nieuwenhuijsen and his team measured a range of environmental exposures including air pollution, noise, UV, temperature, and green space, location, and physical activity and health outcomes such as blood pressure, heart rate and lung function and to obtain information on green space and emotional status/mood simultaneously.

Nieuwenhuijsen says "smartphone and sensor technology is developing rapidly and it becomes now easier for people to carry with them a range of sensors to measure their environment and health parameters. This could be used for disease prevention. People can see where there are hotspots of air pollution and avoid them if they want."

You can participate in this research
Air pollution is responsible for 450000 premature deaths each year in the EU and for this reason researchers are focusing their efforts on this research. Currently, for people living or working in Barcelona that are interested in knowing their mobility, air pollution and health status using new internet and sensor technology, there are now possibilities to participate in new projects at CREAL. CITISENSE ( is a large European project to develop and implement air pollution and mobility sensors around the city and on people moving through the city to get a better understanding of air pollution in Barcelona and other European cities. PASTA ( is a European study to improve mobility and health in the city and anyone can sign up now to participate and provide and obtain new information on how mobility can affect your health.

• Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen , David Donaire-Gonzalez , Ioar Rivas , Montserrat de Castro, Marta Cirach, Gerard Hoek, Edmund Seto, Michael Jerrett , Jordi Sunyer. VARIABILITY IN AND AGREEMENT BETWEEN MODELLED AND PERSONAL CONTINUOUSLY MEASURED BLACK CARBON LEVELS USING NOVEL SMARTPHONE AND SENSOR TECHNOLOGIES. EST Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Jan 26
• Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, Donaire-Gonzalez D, Foraster M, Martinez D and Cisneros A. Using Personal Sensors to Assess the Exposome and Acute Health Effect. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2014; 11: 7805-7819.


Communications Manager:
Raül Toran

(+34) 93 214 73 33
(+34) 696 912 841


ISGlobal - Campus Mar · Doctor Aiguader, 88 · E-08003 Barcelona · Tel +34 93 214 73 00 · Fax +34 93 214 73 02 · e-mail: RSS


Scientific context: