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Athletes’ exposure to air pollution during World Athletics Relays: A pilot study

Atmospheric pollution and sport performance

What adverse consequences can result from being exposed to a high level of atmospheric pollution during physical exercise? Some of the most common effects are:

  • decreased lung function;
  • exacerbation of asthma; and,
  • exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

These effects are especially relevant for athletes and during international competitions, as they may impact athletic performance. Thus, assessing and mitigating exposure to air pollutants during exercising should be encouraged in sports venues.

Atmospheric pollution during the World Relays Yokohama 2019: study results

This study was carried out during the Yokohama World Relays 2019, held in May of that year. During the event, a comprehensive air quality assessment was carried out, covering both the stadium and the warm-up track.

In addition to meteorological parameters, online and offline instrumentation for gaseous and particulate pollutants was included.

All values obtained were compared with local reference data. The evaluation also had the collaboration of the athletes who, during their training, answered several questions. The objective, to estimate the perception of air quality and the exacerbation of already diagnosed respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Median NO2 concentrations inside the stadium (25.6–31.9 μgm−3) were in the range of the Yokohama urban background. This result evidences the impact of urban sources (e.g., traffic) on athletes’ exposure during training and competition.

Personal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was quantified through wearable silicone wristbands, and showed highly variability across volunteers.

Conclusion

The study identified the assessment of hourly air pollutant trends as a valuable tool.  This variable identifies the periods of the day with the lowest ambient concentrations. This provides guidance for reducing athletes’ exposure to air pollution.

The presente strategy could be adopted to define training and competition schedules, representing an added value for athletes with respiratory conditions.

The wristbands were also found to be a simple approach to assess personal exposure to potentially toxic organic compounds.

Further research would be necessary with regard to specific air pollutants that may trigger or exacerbate respiratory conditions typical of the athlete community.

The availability of high time-resolved exposure data in the stadiums opens up the possibility to calculate doses of specific pollutants for individual athletes in future athletics events, to understand the impact of environmental factors on athletic performance.

If you wish, you can download the complete scientific article by clicking here.

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