When cars drive on the road, the brakes, tyres and road surface all wear slightly, causing very small particulates, such as brake dust, to be released into the air. The government says these particles have a "detrimental impact on human health", and can impact wildlife - particularly if tyre particulates get into water through the sewage network.
A new report by the Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) said although air quality has improved greatly in recent years, urgent action is needed to tackle the particulates pumped into the atmosphere by brakes, tyres and road wear. According to the AQEG, such pollution is set to account for 10 percent of PM 2.5 (particulates measuring less than 2.5 microns in width) emissions by 2030.
As a result, the government is asking the car industry to develop standardised methods for measuring emissions from tyres and brakes. In particular, the powers that be want a new international standard for tyre and brake wear, similar to the Euro emission standards for tailpipe emissions.
Calling on the automotive industry to consider action to address the problem, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said the research showed exhaust pipe emissions weren't the only air quality issue arising from road transport.
"The documents published today make clear that it is not just fumes from car exhaust pipes that have a detrimental impact on human health, but also the tiny particles that are released from their brakes and tyres," she said. "That is why an ambition of our Clean Air Strategy is to address all sources of particulate matter, including those from transport. Today’s research goes a long way in helping us better understand the problem.
"Emissions from car exhausts have been decreasing through development of cleaner technologies and there is now a need for the car industry to find innovative ways to address the challenges of air pollution from other sources”.
Meanwhile Transport Minister Michael Ellis added that the government was working "at an international level" to find solutions.
"We are committed to reducing all transport emissions and cleaning up our air," he said. "With record levels of ultra-low emission vehicles on the UK’s roads, things are clearly moving in the right direction.
"To continue this progress, we are looking for ways to reduce emissions from other sources such as brakes and tyres. We are engaging at an international level to identify how to measure these emissions as well as aiming to develop standards to control them."
Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said the industry was working to tackle the issue, but claimed accurate measurement of particulate emissions from tyres and brakes was "not easy".
"The automotive industry is committed to improving air quality and has already all but eliminated particulate matter from tailpipe emissions," he said. "Brake, tyre and road wear is a recognised challenge as emissions from these sources are not easy to measure.
"A United Nations global group, including industry experts and government, is working to better understand, and agree how to measure, these emissions. Maintenance of the road surface, as well as further investment in new vehicle technologies, is essential to reducing these emissions, without compromising safety and we welcome further research in this area."