Diesel dangers


House Member
Feb 16, 2003

Diesel exhaust is a mixture containing over 450 different components, including vapors and fine particles coated with organic substances. The State of California considers over 40 chemicals in diesel exhaust as toxic air contaminants (see Table 1). Exposure to this mixture may result in cancer, respiratory effects and other health problems.
California’s Scientific Review Panel has unanimously endorsed the official listing of diesel exhaust as a toxic air contaminant, due to its cancer and non-cancer health effects.
Diesel exhaust has been listed as a known carcinogen under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Prop. 65) since 1990. Many components of diesel exhaust, such as benzene, arsenic, dioxins, and formaldehyde, are also known carcinogens in California. Other components, such as toluene and dioxins, are known reproductive toxicants.
Diesel exhaust from heavy-duty diesel engines contains between 100 to 200 times more small particles than gasoline engine exhaust. As a result, diesel engines account for an estimated 26% of the total hazardous particulate pollution from fuel combustion sources in our air, and 66% of the particulate pollution from on-road sources.
Diesel engines also produce nearly 20% of the total nitrogen oxides (NOx) in outdoor air and 26% of the total NOx from on-road sources. Nitrogen oxides are a major contributor to ozone production and smog.
The health risk from diesel exposure is greater for children, the elderly, people who have respiratory problems or who smoke, people who regularly strenuously exercise in diesel-polluted areas, and people who work or live near diesel exhaust sources.
EPA suggests that a cancer risk may be "negligible" if a substance induces one excess cancer out of a million people exposed over a lifetime - 1 in a million risk. According to estimates, lifetime exposure to diesel exhaust at the outdoor average concentration (2.2 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) may result in more than 350 people per million developing cancer due to this exposure. This estimate increases for levels found in the South Coast Air Basin in Southern California (3.6ug/m3), and to even higher risks for those living near freeways, distribution centers and other diesel "hot spots".
Dozens of studies, including a recent one conducted by Kaiser Foundation Hospitals of our area, link airborne fine particle concentrations to increased hospital admissions for respiratory diseases, chronic obstructive lung disease, pneumonia, heart disease and death. Recent evidence indicates that diesel exhaust exposure may contribute to asthma.
The World Health Organization estimates that the Riverside-San Bernardino area has one of the worst small particulate air pollution problems in the world, only after cities such as Jakarta, Indonesia; Calcutta, India; and Bangkok, Thailand.
About 127 million Americans—half of the nation’s population—live in regions with air quality that does not meet federal standards for certain air pollutants. More than 60 percent of preadolescent children, including children with asthma, live in "non-attainment" areas. In the United States, there are an estimated 10.3 million people living with asthma.
In California, there are 6 million children under the age of 14, 90% of whom live in areas that fail to meet federal standards for certain air pollutants. According to the American Lung Association, there are over a half million children with asthma in California.
Asthma is on the rise. In the United States, age-specific death rates from the disease increased 118% between 1980 and 1993.
Cleaner alternative to diesel engines are readily available. Alternatives include electric, liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and trucks.Concentrating diesel "hot spots" like distribution centers and warehouses, as well as truck terminals and truck stops greatly increases the exposures to these deadly and dangerous emissions.

Table 1: Substances in Diesel Exhaust Listed by Cal EPA as Toxic Air Contaminants

acetaldehyde inorganic lead
acrolem manganese compounds
aniline mercury compounds
antimony compounds methanol
arsenic methyl ethyl ketone
benzene naphthalene
beryllium compounds nickel
biphenyl 4-nitrobiphenyl
bis{2-ethylhexyl]phthalate phenol
1,3-butakiene phosphorus
cadmium polycyclic organic matter, including
chlorine polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
chlorobenzene propionaldehyde
chromium compounds selenium compounds
cobalt compounds styrene
creosol isomers toluene
cyanide compounds xylene isomers and mixtures
dibutylphthalate o-xylenes
dioxins and dibenzofurans m-xylenes
ethyl benzene p-xylenes

Note: California health and Safety Code section 39655 defines a "toxic air contaminant" as "an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or in serious illness, or which may pose a present of potential hazard to human health."

Special thanks to NRDC and the Coalition for Clean Air for research in their report "Exhausted by Diesel:

How America’s Dependence on Diesel Engines Threatens Our Health"


Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ)
PO Box 33124 * Riverside, CA 92519
Phone (909) 360-8451 * Fax (909) 360-5950
Website: http://www.ccaej.org
E-Mail: admin@ccaej.org




Time Out
Jan 9, 2003
Re: RE: Diesel dangers

Reverend Blair said:
What about bio-diesel?

I think I saw something about that on the Fifth Estate or Market place 7-8-9 or 10 months ago. But people here had to go to Seattle as no stations here had the mix. I think it was mixing French fry fat with diesal, and those guys were stopping at fast food restaurants on way down to get the "mix". Anyone else see that show? Am I talking about the same thing as the Rev? I will see if I can find the link.

Found it.. http://www.cbc.ca/consumers/market/files/cars/biodiesel/facts.html

Reverend Blair

Council Member
Apr 3, 2004
That's one of things. Pretty much any vegetable oil can be turned into diesel, and a guy in the southern US (someplace with a lot chicken farms, figured out how to turn chicken manure into diesel.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Petro-Can could have been used for. Instead it was for straight profitability, then sold off just when it could have driven the availability of alternative fuels in Canada.


New Member
Feb 26, 2005
Interesting article, Stretch. I always thought my Jetta was such a "green" ride…thanks for bursting my bubble. Guess I gotta get off my environmental high-horse until I can afford that hybrid Escape I've got my eyes on…

I suppose that article really shouldn't have come as such a surprise to me, though. I've spent some time overseas in cities where the diesel engine is king, and the black stuff that appears in the kleenex at the end of the day is clear evidence of the "100 to 200 times more small particles than gasoline engine exhaust".

Another interesting diesel tidbit: I recently had my car in for its mandatory Ontario Drive Clean test. Apparently the exhaust analysers used in the test are not compatible with diesel engines. So my test consisted of me sitting in my car in the parking lot of the test centre, holding my RPMs around 2500, while a technician visually examined the exhaust coming from my tailpipe...at least he took his sunglasses off. Needless to say, my car passed.