The Imperial College project is seeking volunteers in west London and could help to assess the impact of expanding the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), which is aiming to reduce toxic vehicle emissions by 30 per cent.
Professor Fan Chung, who is leading the trial, said: “The research is about pollution at a personal level – how much pollution are you being exposed to?
“Some of it may be coming from outside your home. If you live next to the busy South Circular Road, some of it will get inside your home.
“The whole idea is whether we can pick up something from these observations that will allow us to predict whether you are at risk.”
He said that seven million people died every year globally as a result of pollution. “Who are these seven million? Why are they the ones that die? We are trying to answer that at a personal level.”
Jonathan Goater, an architect who is taking part in the trial with his wife Bea, said: “We wanted to see what all the pollution is doing to us.
“If we are seeing a degradation in any part of our ability to breathe, that is obviously going to inform how we go about our day-to-day lives. If it’s mask-wearing or moving house, what can we do to change our environment?”
The family went car-free last year and use a cargo bike to transport their two boys.
A traffic reduction scheme in south Fulham has resulted in more vehicles using Wandsworth Bridge Road, where they live and work. However, they hope there will be long-term benefits in air quality. “I’m very keen to understand what impact pollution has on our health,” he said.
The monitors may also pick up any improvements in air quality that result from today’s expansion of the Ultra-low emission zone. They live inside the expanded zone, with the South Circular Road – which forms the new boundary – about half a mile away.
The Inhale trial has recruited 20 volunteers but is seeking another 60, including people with asthma.
Participants wear the monitors for two fortnightly periods – one during winter, when pollution is worse, and one outside of winter. A separate device will monitor each participant’s respiratory rate.
Professor Chung, a respiratory medicine expert at the Royal Brompton hospital, said: “We are also monitoring how the person responds to the pollution as they are exposed to pollution.
“We could tell a person the sort of sources of pollution they are being exposed to.”
The study will aim to recruit participants living close to the Brompton, meaning many are likely to see changes in pollution due as a result of the Ulez expansion. The pollution data will be uploaded live to a cloud.
Traffic levels in some parts of London are higher than before the pandemic. “It really improved quite a lot in lockdown but we are more or less back to where we were,” Professor Chung said.
“There is going to be the influence of Ulez, which hopefully will be a beneficial effect. Also, secondary to Ulez, maybe more people will use electric cars.”