Spending two hours breathing diesel exhaust in the basement of a hospital doesn't sound like the most pleasant way to while away a morning.
But it's what Julia, subject COPA-03, is doing in an airtight glass box four-by-six-feet wide and seven feet tall as she sits watching Netflix on her iPad. Every now and then she gets on an exercise bike to modify her breathing, and the amount of diesel exhaust she inhales is roughly equivalent to air pollution levels in Mexico City or Beijing. Her task is not much of a tourism endorsement for these polluted big cities. Instead, her boxed-in inhalations are helping to advance what we know about the effects of air pollution, hinting at the ongoing need to clean up the air we breathe, and focus on the breathing difficulties of those most vulnerable.
Air pollution has been a major concern recently; in late 2014, German carmaker VW was embroiled in a major scandal after it emerged that it had fitted 'defeat devices' to its diesel cars to make them appear cleaner than they were during emissions tests.
By 2030, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is predicted by the World Health Organisation to be the third leading worldwide cause of premature death. It's a condition usually associated with smoking (but not always) and research suggests that in non-smoker cases, air pollution including diesel exhaust may be to blame. In London alone, bad air quality is thought to kill nearly 10,000 people a year - though during extreme periods such as the Great Smog of 1952, death rates used to be far higher.
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