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Iron-rich magnetic coal fly ash particles induce apoptosis in human bronchial cells

Lawson, Matthew J, Prytherch, Zoe ORCID:, Jones, Tim P ORCID:, Adams, Rachel A and Berube, Kelly A ORCID: 2020. Iron-rich magnetic coal fly ash particles induce apoptosis in human bronchial cells. Applied Sciences 10 (23) , 8368. 10.3390/app10238368

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Svalbard is an arctic archipelago where coal mining generates all electricity via the local coal-fired power station. Coal combustion produces a waste product in the form of particulate matter (PM) coal fly ash (CFA), derived from incombustible minerals present in the feed coal. PM ≤10 µm (diameter) may be “inhaled” into the human respiratory system, and particles ≤2.5 µm may enter the distal alveoli to disrupt normal pulmonary functions and trigger disease pathways. This study discovered that Svalbard CFA contained unusually high levels of iron-rich magnetic minerals that induced adverse effects upon human lungs cells. Iron is a well-characterised driver of reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, a driving force for cell death and disease. CFA physicochemical characterisation showed non-uniform particle morphologies indicative of coal burnt at inefficient combustion temperatures. The bioreactivity (ROS generation) of PM2.5/10 fractions was measured using plasmid scission assay (PSA, DNA damage) and haemolysis assays (erythrocyte lysis), with PM2.5 CFA showing significant bioreactivity. CFA leached in mild acid caused a significant increase in toxicity, which could occur in CFA waste-stores. The CFA and leachates were exposed to a surrogate model of human bronchial epithelia that confirmed that CFA induced apoptosis in bronchial cells. This study shows that CFA containing magnetic iron-rich minerals mediated adverse reactions in the human lung, and thus CFA should be considered to be an environmental inhalation hazard.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Additional Information: This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (
Publisher: MDPI
ISSN: 2076-3417
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 26 November 2020
Date of Acceptance: 19 November 2020
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 10:57

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