Diesel Pollution

Why We Care (Why You Should Care, Too!)

Diesel exhaust is a toxic combination of carbon, sulfur and nitrogen particulate matter compounds, trace metals and related gases created from combustion of diesel fuel and the burning of lubricating oil.

There are many different sources of diesel emissions including ships, trains, buses, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, and trucks. These vehicles are necessary for transporting people and goods. Both businesses and individuals benefit from their services. However, not everyone suffers equally from their effects.

  • The Detroit area is among the most unhealthy in the U.S. (It falls in the 96th percentile of Metropolitan Statistical Areas – a regional division used by the census – for pollution)
  • Air quality within the Detroit metropolitan region also varies dramatically. The 48217 and 48209 zip codes, both located in the SW Detroit area, have especially poor air quality.

A Few Hours of Breathing Diesel Particles May Lead to…

  • Irritation of nose and eyes, respiratory/lung function changes, cough, headache, fatigue and nausea
  • Pulmonary Inflammation (found after one hour of exposure to diesel exhaust)
  • Increased Risk of Pulmonary Inflammation to Asthmatics (found after two hours of exposure)
  • Adverse Cardiovascular Effects
  • Changes in heart rate variability, heartbeat and blood indices were recorded in North Carolina Highway troopers exposed to elevated in-vehicle particulate matter during midnight to 9 AM shifts
  • Doubled Risk of Death Due to Stroke (risk increased by a factor greater than two within two hours of exposure to high levels of fine particles in a Japanese study)
  • Suppressed Defense Mechanisms and Increased Susceptibility to Lung Bacterial Infection for a Week After Exposure
  • Diesel exposure is associated with numerous immune system responses in humans and animals culminating in increased allergic inflammatory responses and suppression of infection fighting ability. These effects include disruption of chemical signals and production of antibodies, and an alteration in mobilization of infection-fighting cells. Rats exposed to diesel exhaust for four hours per day for five days experienced prolonged growth of bacteria in the lung during exposure

A Day of Breathing Diesel Particles May Lead to…

  • Asthma Symptoms and Asthma Attacks in Children
  • Increased Susceptibility to Allergy
  • Premature Death (based on a 90-city study associating daily particle exposures with premature death)
  • Increased Circulatory and Cardiovascular Risk for Diabetics based on 24 hour exposures to particles.
  • Nervous System Impairment. In addition to animal studies that have shown neurodevelopment effects, a human study of railroad workers suggested that diesel exposure may have caused serious permanent impairment to the central nervous system, concluding “crews may be unable to operate trains safely.”
  • Increased Allergies with increased sensitization caused by diesel exhaust exposures.

Years of Breathing Diesel Particles May Lead to…

Lung Cancer – The EPA has concluded that diesel exhaust is likely to be carcinogenic to humans at occupational and environmental (ambient) levels of exposure. In fact, the lung cancer risk posed by diesel pollution is 7.5 times greater than that posed by all the other 133 air toxics that EPA tracks combined.

Cardiovascular Death – Ultrafine particles – which are concentrated in fresh diesel exhaust – are small enough to pass directly into the blood stream, where recent studies suggest they can lead to systemic acute inflammation and exacerbation of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis. Formation of blood clots (thromboses), have been documented in laboratory animals exposed to diesel particles, and two of the largest long-term air pollution studies ever conducted (one tracking one million people in 150 cities over 16 years) found a strong association between exposure to fine particles—a major component of diesel exhaust—and an elevated risk of premature cardiac death. A four-year study of 65,000 women in 36 cities found that those living in cities with higher levels of particle pollution are at greater risk of death from cardiovascular causes. The risk varied within cities, suggesting the importance of localized pollution sources.

Stroke – Diesel exhaust particles may increase the risk of stroke and complications after a stroke.

Asthma, Respiratory Infections and Allergies – Multiple studies link diesel particles to asthma and allergic sensitization. An East Bronx, New York, study suggests children exposed to higher levels of truck exhaust have higher incidences of asthma. In a California study, asthma and bronchitis were found to be seven percent higher among children attending school in high-traffic areas, compared with a neighborhood with quieter streets.

Reduced Lung Function Growth – In a cohort of 3677 children tracked for 8 years, those living within 500 meters of a California freeway had deficits in lung volume growth.

Slowed Fetal Growth – As a result of maternal exposure during pregnancy.

Infant Mortality

DNA Damage Reproductive, Developmental, and Endocrine Effects – Diesel emissions have also been associated with reproductive, developmental and endocrine effects in animals. Specifically, diesel exposure has been associated in animals with decreased sperm production, masculinization of rat fetuses, changes in fetal development (thymus, bone and nervous system) and endocrine disruption, i.e., production of adrenal and reproductive hormones.

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