WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2007 -- Diesel fumes pose a major health risk to
commuters, according to a new report by the non-profit Clean Air Task
The Boston-based environmental research group reported today that even
though we spend only a tiny portion of our day commuting, it's during
the commute that we receive more than half our overall exposure to
deadly fine particle pollution.
"Exposure to diesel exhaust during commutes poses a serious public
health risk that needs to be addressed," said George Thurston,
Professor of Environmental Medicine at New York University's School of
Medicine, who wrote the foreword to the report.
Fine particle pollution, including diesel exhaust, can cause lung
cancer, stroke, heart attack and infant death. It also triggers asthma
attacks and makes people more likely to become allergic.
Some health researchers have estimated that such fine particles are
responsible for shortening the lives of at least 70,000 Americans each
The Task Force specifically investigated diesel exhaust levels during
commutes in New York, NY; Boston, MA; Austin, TX and Columbus, OH. The
Task Force documented diesel particle levels four to eight times
higher inside commuter cars, buses, and trains than in the ambient
outdoor air in those cities. These are examples of likely results
during a commute anywhere in the country where there is significant
"Our investigation demonstrated that you may be exposed to high levels
of diesel particles -- four to eight times the levels in the outdoor
air -- whether you commute by car, bus, ferry, train, or on foot,"
said Bruce Hill, Senior Scientist with CATF.
By contrast, Hill noted, pollution levels were negligible for
commuters in and near vehicles equipped with modern pollution controls
or those that run on lower polluting fuels such as natural gas.
"The problem is that there are 13 million diesel engines in service
today, and virtually all are exempt from modern pollution controls,"
said Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director for the Task Force. "However,
our study showed that simply replacing the muffler of trucks or buses
with a diesel particle filter can reduce commuter exposure
substantially," he said. By EPA regulation, the Ultra-Low Sulfur
Diesel (ULSD) fuel that is necessary to keep these diesel particle
filters operating optimally became available nationwide late last
The Task Force called on federal and state agencies to increase
funding to clean up highly polluting buses and other existing diesel
engines. It urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require
that long-haul trucks clean up when their engines are rebuilt. It also
urged the EPA to move ahead with plans to set new pollution standards
for diesel trains and diesel-powered boats, including commuter ferries.