Cats aren’t all good

Toxic metals emitted from automotive catalytic converters have been detected in urban air in the USA. The research was carried out by scientists in Sweden working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The researchers discovered high concentrations of the elements platinum, palladium, rhodium and osmium in air over the Boston metropolitan area. Although these particles are not a serious health risk, evidence suggests they potentially could pose a future danger as worldwide car sales increase from an estimated 50 million in 2000 to more than 140 million in 2050.

Scientists have also detected elevated concentrations of these elements in Europe, Japan, Australia, Ghana, China and Greenland.

Finding ways to “stabilize” these metal particles within the converters “should be a priority to limit their potential impact,” says Sebastien Rauch of Chalmers University of Technology in Goeteborg.

Catalytic converters reduce noxious emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants, but as with all technology there is a counterpoint in this discovery of their constituent elements in the environment. Previously, UK researchers have investigated techniques that could be used to “mine” valuable heavy metals, such as platinum, from road run-off. Whether or not this kind of recycling could ever be viable or whether or not it would reduce atmospheric contamination is still wide open to discussion.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rock god.