If you want to protect your lungs from nearby road pollution, new research says you should be planting some hedges as the most effective way to cleanse the air.

In a paper published in Atmospheric Environment, researchers looked at how three types of road-side green infrastructure – trees, hedges, and a combination of trees with hedges and shrubs – affected the concentration levels of air pollution. The study used six roadside locations in Guildford, UK, as test sites where the green infrastructure was between 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) away from the road.

The University of Surrey researchers found that roadsides that only had hedges were the most effective at reducing pollution exposure, cutting the black carbon by up to 63%.

They also observed an appreciable reduction in harmful heavy metals that originated from the traffic.

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Roadsides with only trees showed no positive influence on pollution reduction at breathing height, as the tree canopy was too high to provide a barrier/filtering effect for road-level tailpipe emissions.

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“The best way to tackle pollution is to control it at the source,” said Professor Prashant Kumar, the study’s senior author and founding director of the university’s Global Centre for Clean Air Research. “However, reducing exposure to traffic emissions in near-road environments has a big part to play in improving health and well-being for city-dwellers.”

“There are many miles of fences in urban areas that could be readily complemented with hedges to reduce pollution exposure for pedestrians, cyclists and people who live close to roads. Urban vegetation should be about much more than just trees on wide urban roads.”

(Source: University of Surrey)

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