Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust

January 17, 2018 by Katie Willis, University of Alberta
The study examined road dust collected from Edmonton's downtown core in September 2016. Credit: Adam Medley

In an attempt to better understand the urban environment and its components, scientists have discovered that sunlight causes chemical reactions in the dust found on Edmonton roads.

"We found that when you shine light on road , it produces a reactive form of oxygen called singlet oxygen," said environmental chemist Sarah Styler. "It acts as an oxidant in the environment and can cause or influence other chemical reactions."

Just what those are and how they affect us is something the assistant professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Chemistry is determined to find out.

"Unlike , which are increasingly heavily regulated, road dust is much more complex and comes from many different sources," explained Styler, who conducted the study by examining and analysing road dust collected from Edmonton's downtown core in September 2016, with her research team.

Road dust is made up of components such as from vehicles, tire tread particles, debris from the road itself, and runoff from nearby parks and yards, said Chelsea Cote, a recent graduate and co-author on the study. As a result, attempts to regulate what makes up the dust on our roads would be extremely complicated—and difficult to quantify

Styler explained that if contaminants in road dust react with singlet oxygen, that means that sunlight could change the lifetime and potency of those contaminants in ways we don't yet understand.

One group of chemicals that could react with singlet oxygen are a set of toxic components of combustion emissions, known as .

"Our study shows road dust does something—it reacts with light—and now we need to learn just what that means," explained Stephanie Schneider, another recent graduate and co-author on the study.

Next, the team will examine road dust from other places around the city, including residential, commercial, and park areas to better understand if and how the different composition of dust will influence reactivity," explained Cote.

The paper, "Photochemical Production of Singlet Oxygen by Urban Road Dust," was recently published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

Explore further: 'Off-roading' threat may lurk in the air

More information: Chelsea D. Cote et al. Photochemical Production of Singlet Oxygen by Urban Road Dust, Environmental Science & Technology Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00533

Related Stories

'Off-roading' threat may lurk in the air

September 23, 2017

(HealthDay)—Falls aren't the only danger for kids who ride an off-road vehicle. In many parts of the United States, riders may also inhale hazardous mineral fibers and toxic dust, researchers warn.

Wildlife in the ditches need a detox cure

October 16, 2017

When it's raining on the roads, slopes of road dust and contaminants drain into the trenches. What impact does it have on wildlife living by the road?

Recommended for you

Paris climate targets could be exceeded sooner than expected

September 17, 2018

A new study has for the first time comprehensively accounted for permafrost carbon release when estimating emission budgets for climate targets. The results show that the world might be closer to exceeding the budget for ...

More ships and more clouds mean cooling in the Arctic

September 17, 2018

With sea ice in the Arctic melting at an alarming rate, opportunities for trans-Arctic shipping are opening up, and by mid-century ships will be able to sail right over the North Pole—something not previously possible for ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.