Another View: No Serious Dispute Over Diesel's Role In Dirty Air

By Dr. Stephen Maxwell

(August 22, 2010)


August 22, 2010

Despite Dan Walters' assertion in his Aug. 17 column, "Storm hits again over diesel rules," there is no scientific debate about the health dangers of diesel soot. To the contrary, there is strong scientific consensus.

While the danger of breathing diesel fumes is obvious to anyone engulfed in smoke spewing from a dirty diesel truck or bus, researchers also have carefully studied the health impacts. Diesel soot is considered deadly by esteemed institutions including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the World Health Organization. Hundreds of peer-reviewed independent studies find that diesel particulates are a major cause of cancer and respiratory disease, and have an economic cost in health care and lost lives and wages.

Diesel soot particles are particularly dangerous because they penetrate deeply into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream, where they can harm the heart and other organs. Studies have found that truck pollution is responsible for thousands of early deaths in California each year, along with asthma attacks and hospitalizations for lung illnesses. These illnesses and deaths result in billions of dollars in health costs annually and create a larger burden for the already overwhelmed health care system.

Diesel pollution poses the greatest risk to children, the elderly, and people with asthma or other lung illnesses, and it disproportionately affects nonwhite Californians who live in congested industrial areas including near ports or railyards. Research has shown that residents near the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland are at risk for 1,000 to 5,800 additional cases of cancer per million residents. Truckers themselves are at great risk. According to a 2008 Harvard study, long-haul drivers with the longest driving records are 1.5 to 2 times as likely as workers not exposed to diesel exhaust to develop lung cancer.

Against these facts, Walters offers the view of one associate professor at UCLA whose research has been highly criticized on many counts, including the use of old data. Despite the claims of James Enstrom, there is no evidence that his pending dismissal is the result of his deviation from prevailing views on the dangers of soot.

Several of the California Air Resources Board's landmark diesel rules have yet to take effect, but California is already looked to by other states and Washington, D.C., as a leader in controlling deadly diesel soot. Now is not the time to retreat but to continue our progress to implement these lifesaving regulations and clean up California's air.


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