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On The Road

Are Your Brakes Making You Sick?

Changing your brake pads isn't just good for the health of your car. Find out how brake dust can affect your health, and what you can do to protect yourself.

by Team Onlia
When it comes to car pollution, much of the focus has been on exhaust emissions. But did you know that brake dust can be just as damaging? The metal particles that come from the abrasion of brake pads are not only harmful to the environment, but also to your health. Although exhaust fumes are a major pollutant, a larger portion of toxins actually come from clutch, tire and brake wear.

How does brake dust affect your health?

To learn how we can protect ourselves, it’s important to understand the impact of brake dust on overall air quality. Researchers say that all vehicles emit tiny metal particles into the air due to a process of mechanical abrasion. We breathe in these particles each day as they linger above our roadways, homes and schools. But the real damage happens when these metal flecks interact with sulphate-rich particles already in the air. This chemical reaction creates a toxic aerosol that can damage our lungs, and cause respiratory problems.

Brake dust and your health

Because of its associated health risks, the pollution caused by mechanical abrasion should never be ignored. Even the smallest amounts of acidic sulphate can affect our health by:

  • Damaging immune cells
  • Reducing the body’s ability to kill bacteria in the lungs
  • Causing inflammation

In the UK, the damage caused by brake dust is so severe that doctors believe it’s behind a condition known as ‘London throat.’ Sufferers experience a froggy throat and chronic coughing, usually caused by brake dust pollution. But those tiny metal particles could be contributing to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Brake dust has the ability to destroy white blood cells, also known as macrophages. These important cells help the body digest foreign substances, microbes, and even cancerous growth. When macrophages become damaged, our bodies aren’t able to fight off disease.

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Fighting pollution with good car maintenance

Due to the popularity of the electric car, exhaust emissions could actually fall in the coming years. But no matter how many zero-emission vehicles hit the streets, brake dust shows no signs of slowing down. Luckily, there are things we can all do to reduce its impact on the environment and our overall health.

Drivers can do their part by:

Replacing brake pads

At the crux of the problem is the dust caused by worn-out pads; so be diligent about replacing your brake pads regularly. Your owner’s manual will likely recommend inspecting them at every oil change. Have your mechanic install new pads once they reach their service limit, which is typically 0.1 inches.

Cleaning rims regularly

Remove brake dust from your rims to avoid emitting these metal particles back into the air. Cleaning your rims is fairly easy:

  1. Make sure the wheels are cool before you start cleaning.
  2. Rinse the entire rim with warm water to loosen dirt that may scratch the wheel while scrubbing.
  3. Soak the rim with wheel cleaner – you can usually buy some at your local automotive shop.
  4. Use a soft bristle brush to scrub the wheel, getting into all the nooks where dust tends to settle.
  5. Immediately rinse and dry the wheels.

Motorists aren’t the only ones who can protect themselves and the environment from brake dust. If you’re a cyclist, you can do your part by regularly cleaning your bike rims and replacing brake pads, too.

Although further studies are needed to understand the full impact of brake dust on our health, awareness is the first step in reducing our ecological footprint. By constantly weighing our options and remaining conscious of our actions, we can lessen our damage to the environment – and our health.

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