• ETC
  • Jul 15, 2014

A cursory Internet search reveals that both kinds of 'smoke' have some pretty scary ingredients.

With social, political and ecological concerns all wrapped up into one made-for-the-Internet phenomenon, there's no question that "rolling coal" has taken over the airwaves in the last few weeks. As many before me have pointed out, this practice isn't a new one, but renewed interest in (or horror at the exercise of) has flooded many of our feeds with terrifying photos, careening op-eds and viral videos.

If you're like me, one of the very first responses to said videos was probably along the lines of "that can't be good for you." Whether believing it an expression of personal freedoms, or with some notion of "sticking it to" those with opposing social mores, the so-called coal-rollers have got to know that they're exposing people to a serious health risk, right?

After consuming more than a few rolling-coal videos, I also began to wonder just where the practice stacked up, from a human heath perspective, versus a the more-common car enthusiast practice of laying a patch, smoking tires, lightin' 'em up, etc. In other words, is burning rubber any better for you than rolling coal?

A cursory Internet search reveals that both kinds of 'smoke' have some pretty scary ingredients. Diesel fumes consist of dangerous polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a lot of sulfuric acid and inorganic bits and pieces picked up from fuel and motor oil. Ignited rubber, meanwhile, discharges airborne latex along with traces of carbon black, oil, sulfur, steel and other metallic elements.

"Both are bad, very bad." – Dr. Scott McDonnell

Not having a clue what any of that actually means for air-sucking humans, I reached out to friend of Autoblog, Dr. Scott McDonnell, a cancer researcher and senior scientist at a large pharma company. Careful to point out that the question of "which is worse?" is a complicated one, McDonnell was able to shed a bit of light on the relative toxicity of burnt rubber and rolled coal.

"First off, " McDonnell told me, "both are bad, very bad."

Apparently the World Health Organization has listed both diesel exhaust and the whole rubber industry as "Group 1" carcinogens, meaning, "either specific components or the mixtures have been directly linked to causing cancer," says Scott. He goes on to point out that, "the science is settled on many of these," and "we even know the mechanism of action through which these components act to cause cancer."

The good doctor goes into a lot more detail, but the long and short of it is that both substances can hurt a person in one of two general ways: direct damage or mutation to your cells' DNA, and indirect damage by way of organic particles penetrating deep into one's lung tissues. The former can lead to a chain of events that directly causes cancer formation, while the latter can create a chronic inflammatory state that is "advantageous" for cancer growth, and serve as the jumping off point for asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Both peeling out and blowing your stack can have a seriously deleterious effect on your neighboring homo sapiens.

So the truth is that both peeling out and blowing your stack can have a seriously deleterious effect on your neighboring homo sapiens, but the key to true danger lies in the concentration. McDonnell admits that exposure to both substances is difficult to avoid in industrialized parts of the world, but "most of us have very limited and diluted exposure to them." With that said, McDonnell – and anyone that has seen the YouTube videos I have – points out that rolling coal may up the exposure ante in a terrifying way.

"Practices such as 'rolling coal' intentionally expose people to very high concentrations of these dangerous substances," says McDonnell. "Unfortunately many of the health effects may not manifest until years later, providing a pretty poor deterrent."

So, at least in terms of automotive applications (i.e. you don't work next to a tire fire), the terrifying tradition of rolling coal onto a neighboring driver, cyclist, pedestrian (or in some cases your friend or yourself), is a lot more worrisome than the occasional patch laying. (Though, given what we've learned, it might be advisable for local drag-strip workers to get some protective gear.) As for coal rollers, consider the sickness you might be doling out the next time you think about blasting the Prius in the lane next to you – we're breathing over here.


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  • 52 Comments
      BipDBo
      • 5 Months Ago
      No legislation is needed because there are already laws on the books. Just write your local county sheriff or city PD. Ask them to direct officers to pull over and ticket those who are intentionally "rolling coal." I've been coaled a number of times while riding my bike, so I think I'll write such a letter and include those experiences.
        GoodCheer
        • 5 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        I'm sorry to hear that. I know a lot of cyclists ride with GoPros (or equivalent) running, to catch jackholes in the act and prosecute if necessary. I've never had worse than insults thrown at me, luckily.
      Herbie
      • 5 Months Ago
      How many comments were on the last AB post about this? 200? More? Look, it ain't cool and really it's the equivalent of tossing a bag of sh*t out the window on to some guy's car or some dude on a sportbike. It's being a dick. Being a dick is not funny.
      SquareFour
      • 5 Months Ago
      In most states, a smokey burnout on city streets will get you a ticket. Same ought to happen to these lame twaats making like squids on the expressway. It's not just akin to laying a fart on a passerby, it's actually a lot like tossing a 15 second rug across the windshield of a moving vehicle. Not cool and pretty dangerous. I'm all for fun, but this coal rolling crapola is pretty f..cking stupid. Grow the hell up already.
      Making11s
      • 5 Months Ago
      Now if only people who "rolled coal" accepted the results of scientific research they don't want to hear...
        jtav2002
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Making11s
        Moot point as they probably couldn't read the findings anyway.
      Actionable Mango
      • 5 Months Ago
      "As for coal rollers, consider the sickness you might be doling out the next time you think about blasting the Prius in the lane next to you – we're breathing over here." I'm pretty sure you just encouraged them.
      EVnerdGene
      • 5 Months Ago
      how about brake pad dust ?
      WindsWilling
      • 5 Months Ago
      Time to arrest these coal rollers and have their vehicles impounded for damaging the health of others.
      IBx27
      • 5 Months Ago
      How about exhaust from gasoline engines? The non-visible products of gasoline combustion are far worse for you and the environment than that from diesel combustion. This site is getting too liberal.
        Bruce Lee
        • 5 Months Ago
        @IBx27
        Diesel emissions contain far more particulate matter that will damage your lungs, and also can affect your cardiovascular health as the particles tend to stick to arteries. I'm a physician and it honestly was disturbing to see how much particulate output there is from diesel in undeveloped countries when I was volunteering abroad and these idiots rolling coal are trying to turn us into a third world country
          GR
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Bruce Lee
          Dude, I thought you were a martial artist that likes to scream the common name for H2O.
        Quen47
        • 5 Months Ago
        @IBx27
        Setting someone on fire is worse than rolling coal too I think you are missing the point. People roll coal as a deliberate way of harassing someone. That's not ideology.
        GR
        • 5 Months Ago
        @IBx27
        I facepalm at your ignorance. First, diesel emissions are far worse for both the environment AND your health. The redeeming factor for diesel is its fuel efficiency so while it pollutes more, it burns relatively less. However, volume by volume, diesel emissions are more carcinogenic and also contain more smog-forming emissions. This is precisely why the US EPA is strict on diesel emissions. They measure emissions in ways Europe does not and one of those parameters measured is the emissions of carcinogens. Your last line is very fitting of your overall ignorance. You claim someone or something is "too liberal" and it goes to reinforce the stereotype on conservatives: you guys just have your science facts always wrong. No wonder you believe the nonsense you do. You guys just can't do science... or much of higher education for the matter.
          wxman
          • 5 Months Ago
          @GR
          Diesel emissions are far worse for both the environment AND your health than gasoline engine emissions? Based on what? Direct PM from gasoline exhaust has been shown to be a far large source of ambient PM than diesel exhaust, and that doesn't include the even large source of PM from secondary organic aerosols, which gasoline exhaust emissions and VOC emissions from gasoline itself comprise nearly all of the anthropogenic SOA precursors. Plus, direct gasoline engine PM has been shown to be enriched in PAHs, which are the carcinogenic component of combustion-generated PM emissions, relative to diesel PM. I've been exposed to "smoke screens" from over-fueled diesel trucks too, and I don't like it. But if you think gasoline emissions are innocuous, well that makes one of us.
      Lachmund
      • 5 Months Ago
      I really hope those coal rollers suffer heavily from their own stupidity. sorry.
        Rayes Adebesi
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Lachmund
        I got a big bubble for you. You can live in it. You will be safe there! p.s. we're all still going to die.
          Lachmund
          • 5 Months Ago
          @Rayes Adebesi
          Perhaps you are but I'm not ignorant like these people are.
      danfred311
      • 5 Months Ago
      Both are really stupid.
      JS
      • 5 Months Ago
      Both fail the "Don't be a dick" test, really.
      Eggshen
      • 5 Months Ago
      Slow auto news day I guess. Zzzzzzz...zzzzzzz...zzzzzzzz
        Rayes Adebesi
        • 5 Months Ago
        @Eggshen
        Role some coal and burn some rubber. Hell that's a good time. People commenting on this are about too much fun for me to handle.
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