The effects of Black Carbon on our health

How polluted is the air in Milan? And are the filters in our cars enough to protect us? Unfortunately, the data from a new study is not encouraging for traditional motors. Hybrid or electric vehicles are preferred.

In partnership with

Dr Michele Carugno

Professor of Occupational Medicine at the State University of Milan

How often do you take the car to drive a few hundred meters? And how much more do you have to be careful not to drive through certain restricted traffic areas if your car is too old and therefore environmentally unfriendly? Probably a lot. Yet a new study conducted by the association Cittadini per l’Aria, in collaboration with industry and state experts Impact Zero, Resilient Gap and Extinction Rebellion of Milan, has shown that even newer cars can be a problem for air pollution and therefore for your health.

The question they wanted to ask is what exactly does car exhaust emit? The answer was simple: around half of the vehicles on the road in Milan would be major vehicles. carbon residues very dangerous for health. The study authors collected this residue by simply passing a paper towel over the exhaust pipes of parked cars. What did they find?


THE 5,000 samples were taken in a period of two months, between November and December 2021. The best test, as often happens, is the simplest: as we told you, it was enough to pass a tissue on the inner surface of each pipe exhaust. The result? Almost half of the handkerchiefs were completely blacked out. To simplify, black is made up of a set of residues that are released as a result of combustion incomplete fuel and which the alarmed researchers also found inside the placenta. As you can guess, these are carcinogenic and dangerous substances.

What is called in technical jargon “black carbon”, and that you cannot see with the naked eye, creates a lot of damage to your health, because it stays in the air you breathe. In this experiment, in fact, it was collected from paper tissues but generally settles in the same way in your lungs.

If we want to be precise and debit some more data, we can say that the87% handkerchiefs with which they sampled the exhaust pipes of the motorbike and the gods mopeds it turned black. the 66%in contrast, it turned black after sampling the vans and the 46% it blackened following the tests on private cars. Finally, dividing by class of vehicle, we can note that: for passenger cars Euro classes 1-362% found carbon deposits in vehicles Euro 4 it was 55%, in these 5 euros 57%, and in Euro 6 33% of tissues used were blackened. As you can see, the worst results are found in the classes ranging from Euro 1 to Euro 3, whereas with regard to hybrids the data is much more encouraging: only 28% of the samples taken were black.

The solutions

A meeting, the one organized by the Cittadini per l’Aria association, which aims to highlight how restriction which have been imposed in certain urban areas are important precisely to “lighten” the air you feel and make it healthier.

Fundamental help, according to Cittadini per l’Aria, could come from electric vehicles and a reinforcement of public transport lines. But not only: also more restrictive and updated vehicle revisions (as is already the case in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland). Finally, it would not be a bad idea to further promote smart working and the use of public transport, so that mobility with one’s own vehicles is further reduced.

The expert’s opinion

We asked Michele Carugnoprofessor of occupational medicine at the State University of Milan, whoever they are the effects of Black Carbon on our healthespecially for women who are expecting a child.

“Let’s start by saying that Black Carbon is the soot component of the so-called PM2.5, this particle dispersed in the air with particles smaller than 2.5 microns, and comes mainly from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass. Carbon black is part of that mixture of gases and solid and liquid particles that we normally call air pollution and whose effects we now know well. To give some data, we consider that the World Health Organization has estimated that approximately 7 million people they die prematurely every year due to air pollution. If we then look specifically at the various causes of death, we see how these deaths relate to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (such as stroke) and lung disease, both acute (eg pneumonia) and chronic. (including chronic bronchitis). lung cancer). Mounting evidence suggests that air pollution may also have effects after exposure during pregnancy, especially low birth weight and preterm labor. Let’s not forget that prematurity (which occurs before the 37th week of gestation) is one of the leading causes of neonatal mortality. It is therefore clear that these are aspects to be seriously considered, both for us and for future generations”.

The information provided on is designed to
integrate, not replacethe relationship between a patient and his physician.

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