Evaluating the Health and Economic Impacts of Diesel Exhaust in California

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 15 Jun 2004
Time: 23:20:04
Remote Name:


The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today released a new report evaluating the human health and economic impacts of diesel exhaust in California. The study, Sick of Soot: Reducing the Health Impacts of Diesel Pollution in California, finds that in 2004 alone, diesel pollution will cause an estimated 3,000 premature deaths in California - well above California's homicide rate.

Here's some key findings of the report:

This year alone, Los Angeles area residents will breathe more than 30 percent of California's emissions of toxic diesel soot and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and experience nearly half the state's health consequences from diesel pollution, including an estimated 1,400 premature deaths, 1,300 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 2,100 hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Los Angeles and the South Coast have more diesel related deaths and illnesses than anywhere else in the state, followed by San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Diego, and Sacramento Valley Air Basins.

Using financial data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the UCS analysis finds that the cost of diesel health impacts statewide is $21.5 billion per year. The health costs for the South Coast alone total $10.2 billion per year. Comparing the costs of health impacts with those of pollution reduction measures, the report finds that diesel cleanup creates enormous savings for Californians. California's diesel cleanup incentive program officially known as the Carl Moyer Program can achieve ten times more benefits than costs.

Recently approved new engine standards alone are not enough to protect Californians from harmful diesel pollution because diesel engines typically remain in operation for decades, with the older engines releasing the greatest amount of pollution. The report finds that in 2020, there will be an estimated 1,500 premature deaths in California due to diesel pollution. While California has made some progress in reducing diesel emissions, state retrofit regulations for existing engines do not address over 85 percent of diesel pollution sources. And California's voluntary cleanup programs, Moyer and Low Emission School Buses, have been chronically underfunded. Unlike new engine standards, measures to address existing diesel engines result in health benefits and cost savings immediately.

Diesel soot is a dangerous pollutant that penetrates deep into the lungs and can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, chronic bronchitis, cancer, and premature death. In 2000, the California Air Resources Board estimated that diesel soot was responsible for 70 percent of the state's risk of cancer from airborne toxics.

The UCS analysis represents a conservative estimate of costs associated with diesel pollution because many potential health and environmental impacts - such as smog-related respiratory problems, increasing asthma rates (especially for children), and damage to agricultural crops and forest habitats - are not quantified.

Last changed: March 14, 2006