According to researchers at Cambridge University brake dust is just as harmful as exhaust emissions.
For years and years there’s been study after study released looking at the effects of vehicle exhaust emissions on humans. It’s the sort of stuff that’s led to the introduction of things like DPFs on diesel engines (and soon petrol engines too).
But almost no study ever has looked at the impact of stuff like brake dust (and we all breathe this stuff in when we’re walking around town). Well, now Cambridge University has, and it claims that brake dust contributes up to around 20 per cent of traffic-related particles. In fact, up to 55 per cent of roadside traffic pollution is from non-exhaust particles.
Don’t misread this, exhaust emissions/particles are horrible for our health and have been linked to everything from respiratory problems to cancer and dementia. But now, research has shown that brake dust is just as bad for us, especially where respiratory problems are concerned.
See, brake dust is composed primarily of iron particles because as the rotor rubs against the brake pad dust is released out into the atmosphere. And this dust, when it’s breathed in, inflames the lungs in exactly the same way that diesel exhaust particles do.
Researchers at Cambridge University tested their theory by taking brake dust and adding it to macrophages which are the cells responsible for clearing our lungs of muck. Once brake dust was sprinkled on, the inflammatory response increased by 185 per cent. More than that, brake dust prevented the immune cells from killing a strain of bacteria that causes pneumonia.
So, what is it in brake dust that is stuffing up our lungs? Basically, everything in them. See, brake pads are made up of a mixture of metals from iron, to copper, titanium and magnesium and its these metals that block the body’s immune cells from killing the bacteria caused by the particles. Once the Cambridge University researchers chemically blocked those metals from reaching the cells, the macrophages were able to destroy the bacteria without going into inflammatory meltdown.
And brake dust isn’t alone in pumping out metallic particles because there are also trace elements of metal in diesel emissions and researchers reckon this could be the culprit for diesel particles causing inflammatory effects and thus respiratory problems.
More research is being planned but the thinking is that while reducing vehicle emissions is good for our health it seems that engineers need to start working on brakes that are resistant to wear or made from something non-metallic.