The Risks of Using a Diesel Exhaust System

People are becoming increasingly aware of the risks of using a diesel exhaust system. Diesel exhaust is produced when an engine burns diesel fuel. Its emissions are composed of nitrogen, oxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde, arsenic, soot (fine particles), carbon monoxide and more (over 40 toxic chemicals). The culprits are the various trucks, buses, tractors, ships, aircrafts, motorcycles, and generators, to name a few that use diesel fuel. The harmful agents released into the air when a diesel exhaust system is used are of particular concern for our health and the environment.

Health Risks

Diesel exhaust emissions are of particular concern to public health because they consist of very small particles (less than 2.5 microns) suspended in the air from the burnt diesel. A person is exposed whenever he or she breathes air consisting of toxins released by diesel emissions. Exposure is greater for people who live and work in urban areas and industry—although it is prevalent in rural areas as well.

Long-term effects of exposure include cancer (usually of the lung, and sometimes of the kidneys, larynx, bladder, and pancreas), asthma, damage to the immune system, and cardiovascular diseases. A growing body of research is studying the effect of diesel emission respiratory intake on pregnancy and on the female reproductive system, but no conclusive data is available yet. Short-term exposure also carries health risks, such as irritation of the throat, eyes, and nose, dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), headaches, nausea, coughing, heavy chest, and shortness of breath

Environmental Risks

Diesel exhaust contains harmful pollutants that are released into the air and consequently damage the environment. Nitrogen oxides are one such pollutant. They are released through the high temperature combustion of diesel fuel that is needed to operate diesel engines. These nitrogen oxides are components that create urban smog and ground ozone. This harms the environment in various ways, such as creating haze and visibility impairment and acid rain.

Acid rain damages crops, trees at high elevations, forest soil, and contributes to the decay of some buildings through erosion. It also kills vital nutrients, thus stunting the growth of plants, and causes mercury and aluminum to be carried from soil into water which endangers aquatic life.

Carbon dioxide, another emission of diesel exhaust, contributes to global warming by acting as a greenhouse gas, keeping heat from escaping into the atmosphere. Global warming has tremendous environmental impacts, such as rising sea levels, an increase of the earth’s temperature, melting of glaciers, extreme weather such as severe draughts and tropical storms, changing currents in the ocean, and local climate changes.

With growing awareness of the health and environmental risks of burning diesel oil, more and more studying and investing is being done to find less harmful fuel alternatives. Biodiesel fuel is one such alternative under review. It is a much cleaner fuel that does not release harmful contaminants into the atmosphere. Biodiesel can also be blended with diesel fuel or gasoline, which at least reduces the amount of pollutants that would be created if they were burned alone. It also creates less air pollution, which reduces respiratory illness and prevents global warming.