Diesel Exhaust & Health

Diesel exhaust is a toxic mixture of tiny fine and ultrafine carbon soot particles and gases from the burning of diesel fuel and lubricating oil. These microscopic carbon soot particles absorb metals and toxic gases in the exhaust and deliver them to your lungs.  The most at risk are commuters, people living or working in proximity to truck traffic, construction workers, agricultural and other heavy equipment operators.

Asthma & COPD

Researchers have long associated diesel exhaust, particulate matter and traffic with reduced lung function and lung growth, asthma attacks, asthma sensitization and in one study, emphysema.

  • Multiple studies link particles with asthma and allergic sensitization.
  • Heavy equipment operators exposed to diesel exhaust have a significantly elevated risk of death from emphysema.

Cancer, Heart Disease & Mortality

Cancer: Researchers repeatedly find associations between exposure to diesel exhaust and cancers.  Approximately three dozen occupational studies conducted over the past three decades link diesel exhaust exposure to lung cancer, posing an increased cancer mortality risk of 10-40%. Scientists have observed DNA damage and cell mutations, in the laboratory, that could be an indicator of the ability of particles to trigger cancer.  In 2012, two-decade long studies undertaken by the National Cancer Institute tracked the same 12,000 U.S. mining industry workers exposed to diesel carbon particles found an astonishing 3-fold increased risk of both lung cancer and premature mortality. Based on EPA’s 2005 National Air Toxic Assessment released in 2011, Clean Air Task Force estimates that the lung cancer risk from particles is approximately three times the combined risk of the 80 air toxins modeled by EPA.

Heart Disease: The largest fraction of particulate matter-related premature deaths in the U.S. are believed to be from heart disease.  Doctors have long known the relationship of inflammation and heart disease and particles may have a fatal inflammatory effect on the heart.  Other factors include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and cardiac arrhythmia that may be precursors to sudden death or stroke.  Research also suggests that particles have the ability to directly alter heart rate function and cause myocardial infarction or “MI”–a potentially fatal blockage of blood supply to the heart.

Mortality: Particulate diesel soot kills an estimated 21,000 Americans every year.  Medical researchers are just beginning to understand how combustion particles can cause fatal diseases such as cancer, stroke, and heart attacks. When inhaled, these tiny poison-laden particles may, in fact, be capable of directly triggering a response from the cardiovascular system or crossing the blood-barrier from lungs into the bloodstream, delivering them to internal organs.