Diesel-powered vehicles are inherently more efficient and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which is good news for those concerned about climate change. On the other hand, other diesel emissions, such as large particulate matter [PM10] and nitrogen dioxide [NO2], have been linked to human health problems.
“Diesel vehicles are more efficient, but they emit a higher level of nitrogen dioxide than regular vehicles,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency [EEA].
Diesel-powered vehicles are much more popular in the European Union [EU] than they are here in the United States [US] because the EU gives tax breaks on diesel fuel. Here in the US, diesel-powered vehicles are becoming more popular and this means that associated human health problems could also be rising.
A recent study completed by the World Health Organization [WHO] has linked diesel emissions with an increase in cancer, particularly in the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The EEA also linked diesel emissions with reduced crop yields, fetal health problems, and lost working days, in addition to over 400,000 early deaths each year in the EU.
This doesn’t mean, however, that diesel is doomed as a vehicle fuel, for the newest diesel-powered vehicles being offered today are cleaner and more efficient than ever before. The problem is the millions of older diesel-powered vehicles that are still on the road, that are producing >2,000% more PM10 and >200% more NO2 than comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. Both the US and EU will be working hard to identify and mitigate the human health risks associated with these older diesel-powered vehicles.