In vitro studies with particles are a major staple of particle toxicology, generally used to investigate mechanisms and better understand the molecular events underlying cellular effects. However, there is ethical and financial pressure in nanotoxicology, the new sub-specialty of particle toxicology, to avoid using animals. Therefore an increasing amount of studies are being published using in vitro approaches and such studies require careful interpretation. We point out here that 3 different conventional pathogenic particle types, PM10, asbestos and quartz, which cause diverse pathological effects, have been reported to cause very similar oxidative stress effects in cells in culture. We discuss the likely explanation and implications of this apparent paradox, and its relevance for testing in nanotoxicology.