Exhaust fumes are not the only dangerous chemical produced from road transport that can cause health problems, a UCC expert has warned. Professor John John Sodeau, emeritus professor of Chemistry at UCC with research interests in Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerobiology, said that road transport emits many non-exhaust chemicals that can be harmful. Professor John Sodeau was speaking after a study in the UK found that fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that originates from brake pads may be just as bad for the lungs as PM2.5 from diesel exhausts.
The King’s College London and Imperial College London examined brake pad emissions, which make up around one-fifth of PM2.5 air pollution at roadsides. Their study found that the PM2.5 from brake pads can cause inflammation which harms respiratory health and that it damages cells when they enter the lungs. The researchers linked brake pad dust to coughs and colds suffered by people in London.
Professor Sodeau explained: “Road transport releases many chemicals that we call non-exhaust emissions as well as those from the exhaust itself. Brakes and tyres wear as do engines so it’s no surprise that we get small, sometimes very small, particles floating in the air near roadsides,” he added. “Obviously we can breathe these particles in and they can reach the throat immediately – hence “London Throat’. “Many of them consist of a wide range of heavy metals that can irritate the cells in our bodies,” said Professor Sodeau. “Many ultra fine or nanoparticles have even been detected in our brains and heart. The overall point is clear, petrol and diesel are not the only component of road transport that can cause us health problems.”
With research also suggesting that microplastics released from tyre wear result in health issues, Professor Sodeau highlighted the need for transport infrastructure developments to focus on cycling and tram transport rather than promoting cars and electric vehicles (EVs) only. “EVs and hybrids have tyres and brakes and the microplastic particles they will produce represent an air pollution problem even though technology may be developed to minimise the effect,” he explained. “Road traffic congestion will still be present of course. So cycle, tram-type transportation and work from home schemes should be focussed on,” he added.