It was once thought the diesel engines emitted less pollution than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, but it turns out that diesel engines are actually greater sources of pollution than previously thought. Diesel air pollution is a serious issue, and loopholes in the certification tests of diesel engines as well as other factors might be to blame for this unforeseen reality of pollution.
Testing of Diesel Air Pollution
Testing of diesel air pollution has revealed that diesel engines are much dirtier than expected. A recent study published in the journal Nature found that global levels of nitrous oxide emissions originating from diesel vehicles could be up to 50% higher than estimated.
“A team of researchers investigated data on emissions from diesel vehicles throughout Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, South Korea, Russia, Japan and many other countries including the 28 members of the European Union and the United States,” says Kevin Wood, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Camfil USA. “This data covers around 80% of all diesel vehicles that were recently sold in the world. The researchers compared the results of emissions during regulatory testing to data that they gathered from vehicles that were actually on the road.” (1)
It was found that emissions from diesel vehicles were around 13.2 million metric tons total, this is about 50% higher than the legal limits of 8.6 million metric tons of nitric oxide that the vehicles were supposed to emit due to passing emission testing.
Volkswagen was found to have used “defeat devices” to make it appear as if their vehicles were emitting fewer pollutants than they actually did. While other auto manufacturers have not used these defeat devices specifically, they have been found to be cheating and altering their emissions for the duration of emissions tests. Mitsubishi has recently admitted to using improper fuel economy tests, and both Daimler and Peugeot Citroen are under investigation for trying to cheat the diesel emissions tests.
However, the problem goes beyond just cheating. Diesel tests themselves seem to be flawed. The authors of the study called the diesel tests “inefficient” in determining the actual level of pollutants released by diesel engines, due to differences in testing conditions and real-world driving conditions.
Health Effects of Diesel Air Pollution
The health effects of diesel air pollution on people’s health are well-established, and it is known that air pollution causes a variety of health effects such as diseases and premature death.
Exposure to diesel exhaust can have both long-term and immediate health impacts. Diesel exhaust contains both nitrous oxide and particulate matter pollutants. Particulate matter consists of particles small enough to penetrate the lung tissue and cause a variety of health problems.
“Diesel air pollution irritates the nose, eyes, throat, and lungs. It can cause coughing, headaches, nausea, and lightheadedness,” says Wood. “These effects are more pronounced in those who are more susceptible to pollutants, like those with severe allergies, asthma, and other pre-existing conditions. Those exposed to diesel exhaust over long periods of time are more likely to develop lung cancer or other cardiovascular diseases.” (2)
The fact that diesel engines are emitting much more air pollution than previously thought is of serious concern because it means that the amount of harm done to people will be much higher than previously estimated.
Using a variety of data sources including observations from NASA satellites, the research team has concluded that the unforeseen diesel emissions caused around 38,000 early deaths in 2015 above previous estimates. Most of the deaths happened in countries in the European Union, China, and India. These are areas that struggle with high levels of air pollution.
Solutions to Diesel Air Pollution
“Solutions to diesel air pollution must be investigated. That starts with making changes to how vehicles are tested for emissions. Tests which more accurately capture real-world driving conditions must be made. These changes are already underway in some areas, with revisions to vehicle testing in the European Union due to start this September,” says Wood. “Mobile devices are dubbed ‘portable emissions measurement systems’ will be attached to vehicles as they drive around on real roads and they will capture real-time data. More accurate information on emissions will help regulatory bodies hold auto-manufacturers to standards that are better for people’s health.” (3)
However, a more long-term solution is to begin replacing diesel vehicles with cleaner alternatives. Hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles are getting cheaper and more efficient, meaning that diesel vehicles may disappear sooner than previously thought. Mailers of cities like Madrid, Athens, and Paris have announced their intention to ban the production of diesel vehicles sometime in the future.
The best solution to diesel air pollution may be simply getting rid of diesel engines and replacing them with low-emission or no-emission vehicles. Until then, it is important to make sure that diesel manufacturers are held accountable, and that diesel emissions are kept as low as possible. (4)
Camfil USA is an air filtration leader for commercial air filters, industrial air filters & air purifiers that can help protect you from diesel air pollution if you live in a heavily polluted area. Visit Camfil today to arm yourself with helpful information and high-quality products.