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Researchers Find Particles From Car Brakes Harm Lung Cells

Particles released by car brake pads have been shown to harm lung cells in vitro. Researchers writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology found that heavy braking, as in an emergency stop, caused the most damage, but normal breaking and even close proximity to a disengaged brake resulted in potentially dangerous cellular stress.

Barbara Rothen-Rutishauser and Peter Gehr from the University of Bern, Switzerland, and Michael Riediker from the Institute for Work and Health, Lausanne, Switzerland, worked with a team of researchers to study the effects of brake particles on cultured lung cells placed in a chamber close to the axle of a car.

They said, “Brake wear contributes up to 20% of total traffic emissions, but the health effects of brake particles remain largely unstudied. We’ve found that the metals in brake wear particles can damage junctions between cells by a mechanism involving oxidative stress”.

The team’s analysis revealed that brake wear particles contain considerable amounts of iron, copper and organic carbon. Exposure to these pollutants caused increased signs of oxidative stress and inflammation in the cells, and hard braking caused most exposure. Some exposure still occurred even when the brakes were not being applied, presumably due to residual brake particles coming off the turning axle and the braking system.

A direct comparison to other (model) particles known to cause these stress effects in vitro was not done, so comparative statements cannot yet be made. The researchers hope that future studies will be able to determine exactly which components are involved in each cell-stress pathway.

According to Rothen-Rutishauser and Riediker, “Just as for exhaust particles, efforts to diminish brake particle emissions will lead to an improved ambient air quality and so could provide better protection of human health”.




One more reason to apply regenerative braking as in hevs phevs and bevs. And we thought that the removal of asbestos would cure?

The exhaust particle reference reminds of the studies on metallic particles specifically platinum / palladium ? from catalytic converters as potentially causing a difficult to analyse immune system stress.


Good point Arnold.

Heavy use of ICE vehicles have been affecting our health in more ways than we know or think.


My parents always knew living too close to freeways and heavy traffic roads was a very bad idea. Heck even in the 40s people knew to some degree that living on the downwind side of a train track or road was a bad thing.


Agencies have warned not to eat the blackberries along side the highways, because of all the heavy metal & hydrocarbon pollution in roadside soils that are taken up by the root systems. Yes, regenerative braking is a great idea. Still leaves the industrial pollution from tires, vehicle oils & fuels, the various metals & plastics pollutions from rainstorm water, & various roadside things that inadvertently & purposefully, 'leave in-transit vehicles'. Yes, let's fill-up on a continuous basis from the 'free' roadside food growing next to roads.


So eventually regen or brakes that do not release any particles should be required on all vehicles as the primary stopping device. Brake pads may still be needed as a backup. The pads must be designed to not contact or give off any particles when not in use.

Roger Pham

The more reason to favor HEV's, PHEV's and BEV's over existing ICE vehicles, due to the regenerative braking potential of these electric vehicles. Exhaust emission of HEV's like the Prius is several folds cleaner than that of a comparable ICE. If I apply gentle braking to my Prius in advance for most of the time, the brake pads are hardly ever used.

The extra premium paid to buy an HEV will be very well worth it, considering the energy security issue, environmental issue and health issue. The saving in fuel cost itself may be sufficient to cover the higher purchase cost of an HEV over that of a non-HEV. Other environmental and health benefits are then, free.


HEVs will have benefits beyond those for the individual. If there is less imported oil, there is less conflict over scarce and dwindling resources. Many positive effects come about, some that we do not even think much about.


Gang - I'm as "rah-rah" about alt energy as the next guy, but, seriously, read the description of the trial - "the effects of brake particles on cultured lung cells placed in a chamber close to the axle of a car."
Who the hell is driving with their schnozz next to the brake pads??? This is a meaningless test to fan some flames.
You might as test for Particulate Matter in the Two-to-Three Inch Variance Range of Highway Asphalt Whilst driving at Seventy Miles Per Hour on Highway 95 During Standard Rush Hour and Taking Deep Breathes with Thine Schnozz Next to the Wheel Hub, Posthaste."
I mean, c'mon, please!


Hey Gang! I just did the test for "Particulate Matter in the Two-to-Three Inch Variance Range of Highway Asphalt Whilst driving at Seventy Miles Per Hour on Highway 95 During Standard Rush Hour and Taking Deep Breathes with Thine Schnozz Next to the Wheel Hub, Posthaste" and guess what I got?
I got my nose scraped...

Roger Pham

Cultured lung cells show damages after a short period of high-intensity exposure. Real-life exposure is of lower intensity, but spread over a much longer period of time, which, cumulatively, the amount of exposure may be comparable, or even higher, or a lot higher, for people who drive much.


Roger - I understand how impact studies are performed and I appreciate your feedback. But to me, this harkens back to the 70's and 80's which purported to show cumulative effects but had no basis in reality. For instance, when the Big Scare about saccharin came about, the intensity of the testing done on rats indicated a person "could" contract cancer from saccharin, if that person consumed the comparable volume as given the rats. And what was that comparable volume? Oh, about 15 pounds of saccharin a day, consumed daily, over a period of thirty years.
Now THAT'S one heck of a sweet tooth...

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