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Diesel Fumes Kill 21,000 Americans Yearly: Learn All the Surprising Risks and How to Avoid Them

With its dirty color and choking odor, one can gather using common sense alone that diesel fumes are unhealthy to breathe into the body, and unhealthy to spew out into the environment. But that is all an understatement. Diesel exhaust is responsible for 21,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to "Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat," a new report by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF).

Diesel Truck

Diesel fumes are made up of soot, or particulate matter (PM), that's filled with toxic, cancer-causing compounds that are small enough to be inhaled.

That's because diesel fumes are made up of soot, or particulate matter (PM), which is made up of hundreds of different compounds, many of which are carcinogenic and toxic. The American Lung Association reported that "diesel engines account for about 26 percent of the total hazardous particulate pollution (PM10) from fuel combustion sources in our air, and 66 percent of the particulate pollution from on-road sources."

In fact, diesel exhaust contains more than 40 substances that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says can cause cancer, including arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

According to the CATF report, diesel exhaust poses a national cancer risk 350 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency´s acceptable risk level. But that's not all. They also found that, each year, diesel fumes cause:

  • 27,000 nonfatal heart attacks

  • 410,000 asthma attacks

  • 12,000 cases of chronic bronchitis

  • 15,000 hospital admissions

  • 2.4 million lost work days

  • 14 million restricted activity days

Who's Most at Risk From Diesel Exhaust?

The study found that health risks from diesel fumes are three times greater for those living in cities as those living in rural areas. However, diesel fumes from farm and construction equipment can also pose a threat for those not in cities. The U.S. cities with the highest number of deaths from diesel fumes were:

  • New York

  • Los Angeles

  • Chicago

Others at risk include children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems or who smoke. People who live or work near diesel exhaust, or who exercise regularly in diesel-polluted areas, are also at an increased risk, according to the American Lung Association.

Aside from the risk of respiratory diseases, chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia and heart disease, the CATF report noted that diesel has been found to:

  • Degrade the immune system

  • Interferes with hormones, including reducing sperm production

  • Cause nervous system damage in railroad workers who are exposed

  • Induce allergic reactions

Does the Future Look Bright?

Diesel Engines

The EPA has set forth new guidelines calling for cleaner diesel engines by 2006, but will the rules go far enough?

By 2006, the EPA has required that diesel trucks and buses must have cleaner engines and off-road equipment must be cleaned up by 2007. The EPA has high hopes for the new guidelines. It's estimated that the new rules will:

  • Reduce asthma attack-inducing soot particles by 90 percent in 2007

  • Reduce smog-forming nitrogen-oxide emissions by 95 percent from 2007 to 2010

  • Save more than 8,300 premature deaths

  • Save more than 700,000 asthma attacks and other respiratory symptoms in children

  • Make up for 1.5 million lost workdays every year

While this is a step in the right direction, the tougher restrictions will only apply to newly sold vehicles, which means about 13 million diesel engines still being used will not be required to comply to the new guidelines.

"Those are great rules, they will hold new engines to higher standards, said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force and co-author of the report, " ... In the meantime, we're stuck with a legacy of dirty diesel engines."

In the Meantime ... Protect Yourself

As the CATF found, one of the major ways that diesel exhaust harms health is by damaging your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to bacteria, viruses and other toxins. So when it comes to protecting your own health (and your family's) in the meantime, when diesel engines are still a heavy source of pollutants that we see and breathe in daily, the best thing you can do is build up your immune system so it's better able to fight off disease. And here are some methods to help you do just that:

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  • The first and only product to contain the top four antioxidant foods on the planet in one whole food powder blend

  • Helps the body maintain its optimal pH range

  • Contains super antioxidants such as ellagic acid (raspberries), proanthocyanidins (raisins), glutathione (goat's milk) and polyphenols (strawberries)

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Recommended Reading

17 New Substances Added to the Most Dangerous Cancer-Causers List:
The Six Keys to Help You Prevent Cancer

Exposure to Air Pollution Linked to Genetic Abnormalities

Dust Dangers: What Exactly is Dust, and Why Can it be so Dangerous?

Rachel's Environment & Health News #807 February 24, 2005 February 23, 2005

CTV News February 24, 2005

American Lung Association

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