Health effects of diesel exhaust

  • Coughs and phlegm
  • Lightheadedness, nausea
  • Increased susceptibility to allergens like dust or pollen
  • Irritation of eyes, nose, throat and lungs
  • Inflammation of lungs, and increased asthma attacks
  • Respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lowered resistance to respiratory infection
  • Macrophages overwhelmed by particles result in immune reactions that cause inflammation and 'sticky' blood, increasing risk of clots and both heart and lung disease
  • Mutations in chromosomes and damage to DNA
  • For people exposed chronically to 1µg/m3 of diesel exhaust, a rate of lung cancer in the range of 34 to 650 people per million
  • Possible cause of multiple chemical sensitisation, leading to changes in red and white blood cells, bleeding, liver damage, and degeneration of the nervous system.

There are two things about diesel exhaust that affect our health: one is the particles and their size; the other is what the particles are made of. Particles are made whenever something is burned – whether wood, petrol, tobacco, gas or diesel. Diesel is popular for fuel economy, but the size, number and composition of the particles in its exhaust make it more toxic than other fuels.

Burning diesel creates fine particles of oily carbon, ash, sulphates, and sulphuric acid that are ejected out the exhaust pipe and into the air. Diesel exhaust is thickest when the engine is old, working hard, or badly tuned, and the fuel has impurities.

While only 10 per cent of cars and trucks run on diesel, they're responsible for around 80 per cent of fine particles from vehicles. Along with road grit, bits of brake lining, tyre rubber, and exhaust from other fuels, they form mostly invisible dust storms in the concrete canyons and suburban savannas of our cities.

The high hazard zone for health is considered to be 150 metres either side of busy roads – particularly within 50 metres. Depending on the number of vehicles trailing plumes of particles in their wake, levels here can be two, three, up to 10 times higher than the usual city background – which is already unhealthily high.

As particle concentrations in the air rise, so do death rates, from a variety of causes. And the impacts add up over a lifetime. At greatest risk are children, with their developing lungs; the elderly, on top of a lifetime of exposure; and people with emphysema, asthma, and chronic heart and lung disease.


more information at the
ban diesel blog