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  Health and Environmental Effects of Automobile Pollution

November 26 - 4x4s 'should carry health warning' - BBC News
Four-wheel-drive vehicles, those rugged beasts designed for the open hillside but more commonly found doing the city school run, are so polluting and dangerous that they should carry a cigarette packet-style health warning.

November 17 - Ozone Pollution Raises Death Risk - Forbes
The study, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, compared death rates and daily atmospheric ozone levels in 95 U.S. cities over 14 years. It found that increases in daily ozone were associated with concurrent increases in deaths due to cardiovascular, respiratory and other causes.

November 15, 2004 - Group fuming over state's air quality - The Stamford (CT) Advocate
Some people think of Connecticut as the country, but its air quality is among the worst in the nation... Charles Rothenberger, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment in New Haven, said political moves to cut emissions are slow. Cars get cleaner, but the gains are canceled out because people drive their cars more, he said.

May 1, 2002 - Half of Americans breathing bad air
The annual "state of the air" study, which crunches government data on ozone, smog's main ingredient, finds more than 142 million Americans live in areas where ozone levels could endanger people's health.
April 15, 2004, EPA: Nearly 1 in 5 Counties Has Unhealthy Air: The Environmental Protection Agency will announce that about 470 of the nation's 2,700 counties in 31 states have unacceptable levels of ground-level ozone, a major ingredient in smog, up from 221 under the previous guidelines. About 170 million Americans live in counties that violate the new standards.

Motor vehicles emit pollution through fuel combustion (exhaust) during operation and fuel evaporation during and between periods of operation. EPA established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)to protect public health, including the health of sensitive populations such as children and the elderly, from adverse effects of poor air quality. Pollutants covered by NAAQS (so-called "criteria pollutants") include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10), particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5 ), and lead (Pb). Volatile organic compounds (VOC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOX) are precursors to the formation of ozone. Motor vehicles emit each of these pollutants, and contribute a large portion of CO and ozone precursors in particular. Vehicle travel also kicks up large quantities of particulate matter from roads (especially on unpaved roads in rural areas).*

Because SUVs and pickups, and all vans, are permitted to emit 29% to 47% more carbon monoxide (CO) and 75% to 175% more nitrogen oxides (NOx) (as well as other pollutants) than passenger cars, they contribute far more towards the health and environmental degredation on our planet and in your home.

Pollutant Health and Environmental Effects
Carbon Monoxide
CO reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen, and is particularly dangerous to smokers, persons with heart disease, and those with anemia or heart disease. CO can also cause permanent damage to the nervous system.
Carbon Dioxide
CO2 does not directly impair human health, but is the most significant greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. The effects of global warming are uncertain, but they potentially include disruption of global weather patterns and ecosystems, flooding, severe storms, and droughts.
Nitrous Oxides
  • NOx exacerbate asthma, reduce lung function, and can lead to chronic lung damage. NOx also increases the susceptibility of young children and the elderly to respiratory infections.
  • NOx also reacts in the presence of VOCs and sunlight to form ground-level ozone, a major component of smog. Ozone irritates the eyes, damages the lungs, and aggravates respiratory problems. It is our most widespread and intractable urban air pollution problem. Ozone also reduces agricultural production and the growth rate of trees.
  • NOx contribute to the formation of acid rain. Acid rain acidifies the soils and waters where it falls, killing plants, fish, and the animals that depend on them. Acid rain also causes property damage through the corrosion of buildings and monuments.
  • NOx also contributes to nitrification (i.e., over-fertilization) of wetlands and bays, leading to algae blooms and fish kills.
Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs react in the presence of nitrogen oxides and sunlight to form ground-level ozone, a major component of smog. Ozone irritates the eyes, damages the lungs, and aggravates respiratory problems. It is our most widespread and intractable urban air pollution problem. Ozone also reduces agricultural production and the growth rate of trees. A number of exhaust VOCs are also toxic, with the potential to cause cancer, nerve damage, and other health effects. Benzene, a known human carcinogen, is an example of a toxic VOC found in vehicle exhaust.
Particulate Matter
  • PM causes lung problems, from shortness of breath to worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, damage to lung tissues, and cancer. People of highest risk of these effects include asthmatics, individuals with chronic heart or lung disease, as well as children and the elderly.
  • Ultrafine PM easily makes its way past the upper airway, and penetrates into the deepest tissues of the lungs, where accumulation can occur. These particles, and the chemicals sorbed to their surface, can then enter the blood stream; many of the chemicals are recognized human toxicants, carcinogens, reproductive hazards, or endocrine disruptors.
  • PM decreases visibility, and causes aesthetic damage to buildings
Sulfur Dioxide
  • SO2 produces acidic precipitation, which damages buildings and other infrastructure.
  • SO2 is water-soluble, and is therefore easily absorbed by the nose and upper respiratory tract, which can impair various respiratory functions.
  • Although more research is needed on the reactions of children, the elderly, asthmatics, and other sensitive populations to various sorts of airborne pollutants, it is clear that many groups are much more susceptible than are healthy adults, who are the subjects of most studies. Investigation of asthmatic individuals, for example, showed that a significant decrease in lung capacity was observed after just 10 minutes' exposure to 70 micro g/m3 of sulfur dioxide. That level is well below the minimum short-term exposure level, 250 micro g/m3, at which an adverse response has been reported for adults without asthma
Ground-level Ozone In the Earth’s lower atmosphere, near ground level, ozone is formed when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight.
Ozone can irritate your respiratory system, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma, inflame and damage cells that line your lungs, aggravate chronic lung diseases, and may cause permanent lung damage.
Read more about ozone from the EPA.
This table from www.environmentaldefense.org

Motor vehicles also emit hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), sometimes referred to as air toxics. HAPs are pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious human health effects or ecosystem damage. Persistent air toxics are of particular concern in aquatic ecosystems, as toxic levels can magnify up the food chain. Compared with the criteria pollutants, less information is available concerning the health and environmental impacts of individual HAPs. According to EPA’s 1993 National Toxics Inventory (NTI), mobile sources released about 21 percent of the 8.1 million tons of air toxics released nationwide. EPA also compiled an interim 1990 emissions inventory of 30 proposed urban HAPs that pose the greatest threat to public health in urban areas. Of these, about 40 percent of emissions come from mobile sources.*

There is strong evidence that air pollution from highways causes a significant number of public health problems. A detailed analysis of the costs of motor vehicle travel concluded that in 1991 motor vehicle pollution was responsible for the following health problems:*

  • Roughly 50-70 million respiratory-related restricted activity days,of which approximately 43-60 million can be attributed to particulate matter alone
  • About 852 million headaches from CO
  • Approximately 20,000-46,000 cases of chronic respiratory illness (chronic cough, phlegm,wheezing,chest illness,and bronchitis)
  • An estimated 530 cases of cancer from air toxins (estimates of cancer risk,however,are highly uncertain)
  • An estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the United States.

  *EPA study - Our Built and Natural Environments