Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat

Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat - Clean Air Task ForceDiesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat

Clean Air Task Force, Boston, MA

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Published: February 2005

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Reducing diesel fine particle emissions 50 percent by 2010, 75 percent by 2015, and 85 percent by 2020 would save nearly 100,000 lives between now and 2030. These are additional lives saved above and beyond the projected impact of EPA’s new engine regulations.

Fine particle pollution from diesels shortens the lives of nearly 21,000 people each year. This includes almost 3,000 early deaths from lung cancer.

Tens of thousands of Americans suffer each year from asthma attacks (over 400,000), heart attacks (27,000), and respiratory problems associated with fine particles from diesel vehicles. These illnesses result in thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and lost work days. Together with the toll of premature deaths, the health damages from diesel fine particles will total $139 billion in 2010.

Nationally, diesel exhaust poses a cancer risk that is 7.5 times higher than the combined total cancer risk from all other air toxics.

In the U.S., the average lifetime nationwide cancer risk due to diesel exhaust is over 350 times greater than the level U.S. EPA considers to be “acceptable” (i.e., one cancer per million persons over 70 years).

Residents from more than two-thirds of all U.S. counties face a cancer risk from diesel exhaust greater than 100 deaths per million population. People living in eleven urban counties face diesel cancer risks greater than 1,000 in a million — one thousand times the level EPA says is acceptable.

People who live in metropolitan areas with a high concentration of diesel vehicles and traffic feel their impacts most acutely. The risk of lung cancer from diesel exhaust for people living in urban areas is three times that for those living in rural areas

The vast majority of the deaths due to dirty diesels could be avoided by an aggressive program over the next 15 years to require cleanup of the nation’s existing diesel fleet. Practical, affordable solutions are available that can achieve substantial reductions in diesel risk. The only thing that stands between us and dramatically healthier air is the political will to require these reductions and the funding to make it a reality.

National Annual Diesel Fine Particle Health Impacts

Annual Cases in the U.S., 2010

Premature Deaths        21,000

Lung Cancer Deaths   3,000

Hospital Admissions   15,000

Emergency Room Visits for Asthma  15,000

Non-fatal Heart Attacks         27,000

Asthma Attacks          410,000

Chronic Bronchitis      12,000

Work Loss Days         2,400,000

Restricted Activity Days        14,000,000

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