University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Your bike ride to campus is making you sick

Air pollution — Fine-grained particles are penetrating your airways when you take a deep breath on the bike path. You can’t see them, but any medical student will have seen how coal dust is accumulated in the lung tissue of people who live in the city. This leads to diseases and pressure on the healthcare system. But fortunately, we can do something about it, according to these two students.

You are on your bike on the way to campus. You have a moped in front of you, a diesel-engined car next to you, and around the corner, the City of Copenhagen is in the process of pouring new tarmac onto the road.


This is a featured comment/opinion piece. It expresses the author’s own opinion.

We encourage everyone to read the whole piece before commenting on social media, so that we only get constructive contributions.

Disagreement is good, but remember to uphold a civil and respectful tone.

The traffic light is red and you are waiting. You breathe in and out in a regular rhythm. The light signal changes, and you push hard on the pedals, and break out into a sweat.

Black bike lungs

This is a situation many of us find ourselves in several times a week. And if you don’t bike to your study programme yourself, you’ll probably be watching a lot of other people do it every day.

But what you do not see is the particles in the air. The particles that blacken our lung tissue. The particles that deeply penetrate and inflame the lung tissue. The particles whose health consequences are deemed more and more extensive, the more the researchers study them.

Air pollution finds its way down into our lungs, no matter what we do. But when you get up off the saddle and exert yourself, because you are in a hurry to get to your lecture, you breathe faster. The air pollution from the moped, diesel car and asphalt is now absorbed more easily and goes faster into the airways.

In the lungs, we have small rubbish collector cells that eat the carbon dust that goes down. But these rubbish collectors only have a certain capacity. And when you are in the Panum buildings at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences looking at lung tissue, you can easily see the accumulation of coal.

Ask any medical student. They will have seen it. But not many other people will ever see it.

Cancer, dementia, and miscarriages

For many, air pollution is a rather abstract concept. We can’t see it, we can’t taste it, and sometimes we can’t even smell it.

But some of us can, however, relate more specifically to it. Those of us with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD, or pollen allergies. Air pollution exacerbates existing diseases. On days with high air pollution, a ten per cent increase in the hospitalizations of children with asthma has been measured.

Ask any medical student. They will have seen it.

It is bad enough that air pollution exacerbates existing diseases. It is almost unbearable that it also contributes to the development of new diseases and conditions.

Recent studies indicate that we develop breast, testicular and liver cancer. That we can get dementia and diabetes. Air pollution is even linked to the development of psychiatric disorders. One in ten premature deaths in Copenhagen is due to air pollution.

For children and foetuses, it is particularly bad. 15,400 Danish children get asthmatic bronchitis every year due to air pollution. The risk of developing asthma increases significantly when you are exposed to air pollution as a child.

For pregnant women and foetuses, air pollution increases the risk of lower birth weight, premature births and even miscarriages.

Uphold the threshold values

We can help alleviate all this through political action. We believe that we as students have a responsibility to contribute to this.

Our healthcare system is under pressure these years. We cannot have limitless pollution leading to even more patients. Neither for the people who might have to live with illness for the rest of their lives. Nor for the doctors and nurses, who cannot work harder.

That is why we, and a number of organisations and associations, have come together for a joint citizens’ initiative under the Danish parliament’s direct democracy scheme. It obliges Denmark to comply with the WHO threshold values for air pollution.

We think you should sign it. Then, In the future, when you stand on the pedals on your way to campus, you can trust that the air you breathe does not make you sick.