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A special ingredient helps this Cincinnati road suck in pollution

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City of Cincinnati
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When the city resurfaces a road, it contracts with Pavement Technologies to lay down a protective coating. On this part of Montgomery Road in Pleasant Ridge, that protective coating had titanium dioxide to reduce pollution.

Cincinnati is beginning to see the pollution-reducing effects of a common mineral that has long been used in Europe, Asia and Central America.

On a single stretch of Montgomery Road between Cypress Way and Coleridge Avenue in Pleasant Ridge, the city of Cincinnati has invested (with the help of an OKI grant) in a titanium dioxide coating designed to suck in car emissions.

Recent tests at Texas A&M prove the product is doing what it promises to do — remove 30% to 45% of the bad air.

Pavement Technology’s David Helm met WVXU in Pleasant Ridge to explain what makes the road surface special, and how it works.

The photocatalytic pavements for air pollution reduction, or “smog-eating pavement,” as Helm calls it, can be compared to photosynthesis. “The sunlight, in contact with the titanium dioxide, creates an energy field in the pavement which creates these oxides, radicals that break down pollution, VOCs,” he explains.

The titanium dioxide is added to Pavement Technology’s regular roadway sealer. “It looks like face powder,” says Helm. “Maybe even finer. If you throw it up in the air, the wind would just blow it away.”

It’s not cheap. The titanium doubles the cost of the sealer to $2.50 a square yard. This doesn’t include the cost of resurfacing the road.

The road doesn’t look any different

Even people who live in Pleasant Ridge had no idea Montgomery Road was sucking in tailpipe emissions.

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Ann Thompson
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WVXU
On a hot day like this one, with temperatures in the 90s, minimizing emissions is especially important.

Helm explains titanium dioxide is not new and his company didn't invent its use in pollution control. It's used in paints and concrete, both at the street level and on buildings all over the world to decompose environmental pollutants. Recently it was used on a hospital in Milan, Italy.

Chris Ertel is Cincinnati's Department of Transportation Principal Engineer. “So, now we’re kind of in a wait-and-see stage. We’ve got one report done (on Montgomery Road in Pleasant Ridge) and we could do another one to see how it degrades over time.”

Why Pleasant Ridge and why Montgomery Road? Ertle explains that’s because this new additive — TI02 Plus — is so expensive Cincinnati has to wait for a pollution-related grant and also determine what roads are next in line to be resurfaced.

“We’ve got one recently that’s just been offered, and construction won’t happen until 2026," Ertel says. "It’ll be Victory Parkway and Park Avenue in Mt. Adams and East Walnut Hills.”

Ann Thompson has years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology