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It's not a myth. Pollution can lead to death. At least, that's what the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) report on fine particle pollution suggests. Titled "Estimate of Premature Deaths Associated with Fine Particle Pollution in California Using the United States Environmental Protection Agency Methodology," CARB's report finds that around 9,000 annual premature deaths in California can be associated with long-term exposure to fine particle pollution emitted by diesel-powered vehicles, equipment and other machinery.

The CARB's report is based on a nationwide study of exposure to fine particle pollution involving around 500,000 people scattered across 116 U.S. cities. CARB chairman Mary Nichols spoke of the severity of pollution and its causal relationship with premature deaths this way:
There is no question particulate pollution is causing premature deaths here in California and nationwide. This study is further evidence that we are on the right track, and CARB will continue to work with truckers and equipment owners to clean up diesel emissions, improve our air quality and protect public health. CARB is committed to reducing this staggering statistic because one premature death is one too many.
We certainly agree that one premature death caused by pollutants is one too many and luckily, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does too. After reviewing CARB's report, the EPA concluded that there is a causal relationship between exposure to fine particle pollution and premature death. The EPA, CARB and several other clean-air groups will now discuss possible methods to reduce this pollution and, hopefully, the proposed solution will lead to cleaner air and longer lives.

[Source: DieselNet | Image: scazon – C.C. License 2.0]


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  • 14 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Just a reminder that EVs are not the only alternative.

      Alcohol fuels such as ethanol and methanol emit zero smoke, soot, and particulates when burned.

      Back in the 70s and 80s when greens cared about smog and particulates (before this issue got passé and the fashionable issue became carbon dioxide), the California Energy Commission played a lead role in the development of alcohol fuel cars, and later flex-fuel cars that can run equally easily on gasoline or alcohol in any mix.

      Unfortunately there was a changing of the guard at the CEC due to deaths and retirements, and in the auto industry as well (methanol's champion at Ford, Roberta Nichols, died). And so flex-fuel, a feature that would is so cheap ($130 per car) for automakers to add, has been neglected for nearly 20 nears, rolled out at a glacial pace, almost always in a transparent effort to take advantage of a CAFE break, and only being ethanol compatible rather than FULLY flex-fueled.

      If instead, the industry had swiftly adopted flex-fuel across the board in the early 90s, by the early 2000s over 90% of cars on the road would have been flex-fuel, and ultra-cheap methanol would have been available everywhere.

      The result: the infamously smoggy skies of Los Angeles (as well as Houston, etc.) would be much clearer (think of those "Claritin Clear" ads), and tens or hundreds of thousands of pollution deaths would have been prevented.

      Not to mention, of course, that if this standard were a US government requirement, it would have become the worldwide standard, since foreign automakers would not have written off the US market and would have switched their production lines to flex-fuel. Given the trivial cost difference between flex-fuel and gasoline-only, and the costs of redundancy, no gasoline-only parts or models would have been made for the non-US market, and thus the entire world would have gone flex-fuel.

      With oil's monopoly status thus smashed, the OPEC cartel would not have been able to spike the price of oil from $10 a barrel in 1999 to $140 a barrel in 2008, crashing the world economy. Nor would oil-flush Mideastern petro-tyrants have been able to lavish cash on spreading extremism and arming terrorism. A different world, with far less terrorism and war. The lost opportunities are haunting.

      But we can at least avoid making the same mistake today that we've been making ever since the early 90's and make flex fuel a required standard feature in all new gasoline cars from now on. The Open Fuel Standards Act (S. 835 and H.R. 1476) under consideration basically calls for this. Where does YOUR Member of Congress stand on it, and if he won't co-sponsor it, what's his reason for refusing to give drivers fuel choice and allowing us to be stuck with gasoline-only?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Ah... but good ol' Anita Mangels insists that motor vehicles do not eschew "pollutants," just "emissions":

      http://bit.ly/bew0Th
      • 4 Years Ago
      Based on a recent study (MATES III) by SCAQMD (another diesel-loathing California environmental agency), even if ALL diesel powered equipment was removed from the state, LA would still be in non-attainment with the annual PM2.5 NAAQS. In that study, the average diesel PM (PM2.5) at the monitoring sites was 3.49 µg/m3 and the average total ambient PM2.5 at those sites was 19.8 µg/m3. 19.8 - 3.49 = 16.3 µg/m3, still significantly above the 15 µg/m3 NAAQS limit. And that's far higher than the ambient DPM found in any other study that I've seen.

      Nothing wrong with cleaning up diesel equipment, but the implication that diesel is responsible for all of the ambient PM2.5 in California and that California's air will suddenly become pristine if they could just eliminate those nasty diesels is nonsense even by their own data.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Is this like the last study CARB completed based on a PHDs study. Turns out he hasn't a PHD. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Can we cut the debate, There are countless studies linking traffic pollution to various different illnesses..heart problems, lung problems, eye problems.
      I currently have two air quality monitoring sites within a mile radius of my house. There is zero heavy industy within about 3 miles, both sites are situated next to a busy A road..Surprisingly my town has one of the worst air pollution rates in the area
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yep. But because we cannot directly tie specific particles emitted to specific deaths, we tend to ignore the issue.

      Of course particle pollution always exists in the form of dust, that really does not excuse the massive amounts of extra particles we spew . . . as illustrated in that picture with smog.

      It will actually be kinda cool 40 or 50 years from now when various cities like LA look a lot cleaner due to gas cars being replaced by EVs. Generate that electricity with wind, sun, & nukes and the air will become much cleaner. A nice fringe benefit to the pain we will suffer as we no longer enjoy limitless cheap oil.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I suffer from cigarette smoke, but that isn't illegal yet because there's too much tax revenue. I guarantee you more people die from cigarette related complications than diesel emissions.
        • 4 Years Ago
        As if were a major health issue.

        Heart disease, cancer, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are the big killers, and these can mainly be addressed by a culture change in diet and exercise.

        I don't buy for one second that CARBs findings even rank in the top 100 killers. Lets prioritize things based on ACTUAL health risks please. In the vast majority of cities, it is also not the passenger cars that create the majority of pollution, but the large scale industrial sectors of the cities, and the prevailing winds or lack thereof is what covers most of the city. These and all the big rigs and other heavy machinery will continue to throw out the large scale pollution. Even for the dreaded CO2 output that everyone is sensationalizing, the Robert Scherer plant generates near 30 million tons per year... thats a whole lot of cars.

        And there are even easier things you can do. For example, you could contact your legislators and have the archaic OSHA laws changed so that these plants don't have enough lighting running all night to light up fifteen airports each, when these are nearly all automated plants regardless with countless sensors and no people walking about.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Most of the newer passenger vehicles are very low on particle emissions. Amazingly in fact, it's been reduced to only about 10-20% of what they were just 10 years ago, due to technologies that more completely burn the fuel and vapors.

      However, there are still old diesel trucks in operation, lots of people use old smelly gas lawnmowers, airplanes still use leaded gasoline, and especially here in the San Joaquin Valley there's the farm equipment and agricultural pesticides that cause lots of health problems.
      • 4 Years Ago
      but they still love the combustion engine and mock electric drive..
      • 4 Years Ago
      The tiny "premature death" increases is the way to start a new enforcement program to save or create bureaucrat jobs.

      Compared to other sources of premature death, this is truly tiny, and virtually inconsequential, in a population the size of California. Most such "premature deaths" include terminal patients, who were adjudged to might have lived another few days.

      I'm sure breathing the smoke from a barbecue grill, the stale air in homes or offices, or from smoking marijuana joints, or tobacco, has a much higher calculated "premature death" rate.

      But the 'fix' is in, and the EPA is seeking a method to justify new regulations, and so we will surely get them.
        • 6 Months Ago
        Like other California government agency that produce marginal benefit to society but expends much precious tax money, CARB is trying to justify its existence at a time of budget cuts. 99% of all cars on California road today emit less than 10% of the pollutant of a 1960 car. And with the advent of EV, the number will continue to go down. It is time to abolish the CARB, and AQMD. Use the money saved for more electric chargers and hydrogen fuel stations instead of supporting a bloated bureaucracy that produce marginal benefit.
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