Health

Diesel Emissions Soup For Breakfast (And Dinner)

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Diesel emissions are a complex mixture of particles, gases and vapours. The gases include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). The particulate emissions are typically 75% elemental carbon (“char” or “soot”) and 20% organic carbon, with a small fraction consisting of inorganic compounds such as sulphate and various metal oxides originating from diesel oil and engine material. No one wants Ottawa’s children breathing in this noxious soup on their way to and from school. 

 

The Health Burden Analysis 

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Image credit: Steiner, S., Bisig, C., Petri-Fink, A. et al. 2016. Diesel exhaust: current knowledge of adverse effects and underlying cellular mechanisms. 

Health Canada's 2022 report estimates that traffic-related air pollution (both diesel and gasoline) was associated with over 1,200 premature deaths in Canada in 2015. Of these, heavy-duty vehicles (including buses and commercial trucks) contributed to approximately 63% of premature deaths. More populous provinces carry the greatest health burden: 500 premature deaths were estimated in Ontario.

Health Canada’s 2016 report estimated that diesel emissions alone caused 710 premature deaths across Canada, along with 2.2 million acute respiratory symptom days, 170,000 asthma symptom days and 3,000 child acute bronchitis episodes per year. 

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic in humans, specifically associated with the development of lung cancer. It is known as a trojan horse, with diesel particles acting as carriers of toxic compounds, allowing them access to organs, fluids and cells throughout the body. As well as premature mortality, diesel exhaust is associated with numerous systemic health impacts, including: 

  • Respiratory effects - reduced lung function, inflammation of the airways, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease
  • Cardiovascular effects - heart disease, arrhythmia, stroke
  • Cancer - childhood leukemia, lung and bladder cancer in adults 
  • Central Nervous System - neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Immunological effects - increased sensitivity to environmental allergens
  • Reproductive and Developmental effects - cognitive development, brain function, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism

In 2015, the annual monetary value of the health burden of traffic related air pollution in Canada was estimated at $9.5 billion

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