The elderly and people exercising are extra susceptible to the effects of air pollution. It is therefore advisable to take this into account when, for example, selecting the location of a new nursing home or fitness centre. Two Portuguese researchers will today obtain their doctorates from TU Delft for their research into this subject.


Portuguese doctoral candidate Marina De Almeida Silva concluded that the geographical location of elderly care homes is a vital consideration from a health perspective. She focused on elderly people in nursing homes’ exposure to air pollution, conducting research at ten homes in Lisbon and Loures (also involving 384 residents of the homes). She identified (potential) problematic air pollution, such as CO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM). The results of her research reveal that, even though the elderly residents share a living environment, their exposure to pollution and inhaled doses can vary significantly. These results will play an important role in identifying critical areas within nursing homes and the micro-environments where the impact is most significant and in emphasising the importance of the geographical location of nursing homes. 


One of De Almeida Silva’s conclusions is that sources of pollution located in the vicinity, such as an airport or a road, can lead to increased exposure. Her research also revealed that the elderly residents spend approximately 95% of their time inside the building, divided between their bedroom and the living room. For this reason, it is essential that the correct materials, products and activities are selected for nursing homes – especially in relation to the presence of VOCs. These VOCs are produced by, for example, furniture, wallpaper, glue and cleaning products. The concentrations of VOCs were recorded as being high in 75% of the micro-environments studied. ‘My recommendation is that both management and employees at nursing homes receive training regarding air pollution, sources of pollution and so forth. In combination with their expertise concerning the lives of the people in their care, this could improve the residents’ well-being and even increase their life expectancy,’ says De Almeida Silva. She believes that the results obtained in Portugal are, broadly speaking, comparable with what could be expected in other developed countries.   

Fitness centres and cycle paths

Carla Ramos will also obtain her doctorate on the same day for research into a related subject. Ramos focused on people’s sensitivity to air pollution while exercising. The breathing rate increases during physical activity, meaning that people inhale higher doses of air pollution when exercising. She conducted research in and around Lisbon at locations including fitness centres and among cyclists on cycle paths. One of Ramos’ recommendations is that fitness centres should be designed to accommodate a specific number of users so that the ventilation systems can be designed to deal with excessive levels of CO2 and particulate matter (produced due to the presence of people) efficiently. She also recommends permitting indoor shoes only, as this reduces the amount of particulate matter present from the surrounding environment. Ramos believes that, in cities, natural or artificial barriers should always be constructed between new cycle paths and roads. Furthermore, an analysis of local air pollution should be conducted prior to approving construction of a new cycle path or fitness centre. 


More information 
For more information, please contact Prof. Bert Wolterbeek, promotor of both doctoral candidates, by calling +31 (0)15 2782 105 or sending an email to Alternatively, please contact TU Delft Media Relations Officer Claire Hallewas by calling +31 (0)6 4095 3085 or sending an email to

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