LETTER: Time to address diesel emissions

From reader Terry Lowrey

That stinky diesel exhaust may be more dangerous than previously thought. It has been well known that breathing diesel exhaust causes headaches and nausea in many people but what isn’t well known is that diesel exhaust is categorized as a Class 1 carcinogen. It can damage DNA in our cells in a way that leads to cancer.

The list of detrimental effects of diesel exhaust is long but here are a few: eye, nose, and throat irritation, asthma, a variety of lung and heart diseases, lung cancer, bladder cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm, as well as brain and immune system issues. The diesel exhaust particulates that we smell are heavily laden with hundreds of toxic chemicals.

Diesel owners are particularly bad about idling especially when they first start the engine and this is the most toxic of the exhaust. Like all internal combustion engines they run much cleaner when warm and operating but the exhaust from burning diesel is far dirtier than from gasoline. Currently in Italy there may be evidence that atmospheric pollutants may transport COVID-19 as well as other diseases. Diesel is one of the main sources of soot and particulate exposure in our daily lives. Is it putting us at further risk?

In many cities around the world like Paris, Madrid, and Hamburg, nonessential diesel vehicles are now banned. Older diesel vehicles are banned in many more areas. This move is in recognition of the health hazards posed by diesel exhaust.

There is a place for diesel powered vehicles. Large heavy transport vehicles or industrial equipment where high torque is required is a suitable use but cars and pickup trucks aren’t. There are much cleaner alternatives and these should be encouraged by our governments.

By default, the clean air that COVID-19 societal measures have provided is reducing respiratory and cardio vascular admissions in hospitals around the world. Every year 4.6 million people die due to air pollution — more than car accidents. It is time we seriously address air pollution and diesel vehicles, especially older vehicles that need to have their tail pipe emissions tested.

When we get back to the “new normal,” we need to be working to maintain the good air quality we’ve been experiencing during the COVID-19 crisis. Cleaning up emissions from diesel vehicles is a great place to start. In the mean time, diesel owners can help by reducing idling and turn the engine off when not driving. Contrary to popular belief, a long warm-up period is not required for diesel engines (or any engine) but in fact does more harm than good.

Terry Lowrey


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