In early 2008, a manager at the TTC said that brake dust was responsible for the grime coating every surface in a subway station and couldn't simply be washed off, which made me wonder how previous generations of TTC janitors managed to clean off the brake dust so that the stations always looked spotless. And then I started thinking…. Rather dangerous because sometimes you shouldn’t think. Thinking takes you places you can’t do thing one about.
“When aluminum ceiling slats are removed to make repairs or renovations above them, the black soot can’t be scrubbed off with water and is still there when they go back up. The soot on the top side of the slats is so thick that it oozes back down over the face of the slats for days after it becomes wet, which only makes the problem worse.” The Toronto Star, 15 March 2008
If, as that manager asserted, brake dust is like glue, resisting efforts to hose it off when they take those ceiling boards down for maintenance work, just what is that fine brake dust doing to my lungs, to my poor little alveoli? You see, the thing about lungs is that there’s no nano-biomechanical engineer going in there regularly with his little scrub brushes and pails of soapy water to scrub all the grime off the mucus membrane surfaces. We already know from smokers that the lung’s natural cleaning ability is no match for man-made particles. So has that dust laid itself on my alveoli like a fine coating of plaster, preventing the oxygen from slipping through the alveoli’s membrane into the bloodstream? Are asthma rates going up because more people are using the subway systems all around the world and fine brake dust is clogging up and irritating their lungs? You see where thinking takes you?
Jack Lakey was focussed on the filthy state of the TTC, but I’m amazed no one at The Star picked up on the bigger story: the effect of grimy, fine brake dust on the lungs of all us regular passengers.