Agency labels diesel engine exhaust emissions as ‘carcinogenic’ and other revelations

In a May 1st Air Quality Matters blog post, I referenced the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) document titled: “Second Report to Congress: Highlights of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Program,” a document to be of particular relevance and importance. (To learn more and read what I had written, see: “EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction program is showing promise”).

Since that time I have learned via the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) “Reducing the € 45 billion health cost of air pollution from lorries” Feb. 28, 2013 news release, that, “While air pollution in Europe has fallen significantly in recent years, it is still a problem in some parts of Europe, where [heavy goods vehicles] can be a major factor, the [“Road user charges for heavy goods vehicles (HGV)”] report notes. Diesel, used by most HGVs, causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels such as petrol. Exhaust emissions from diesel engines were recently labelled as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.”

The EEA in the release goes on to point out that coming from the road transport sector in countries in Europe (“covered by the EEA”), 40 percent to 50 percent of nitrogen oxide (NOx) releases are from HGV. Meanwhile, NOx along with fine particulates or primary particulates (PM 2.5) can pose a health risk “as they can cause respiratory diseases, cardiovascular illnesses and other health problems,” the EEA in the release notes.

More broadly, there are six key or criteria pollutants from the transport sector. These are: nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulates (PM 2.5), coarse particulates (PM 10), sulfur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxides (CO), and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC).

Source: European Environment Agency, 2012
Source: European Environment Agency, 2012

From “Figure 4.1 The contribution of the transport sector to total emissions of the main air pollutants in 2010 (EEA-32)” from The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, shown in graphic representation are these six pollutants and their corresponding percentages from transport and non-transport sectors alike as well as what the various mode percentages were within the transport sector.

For example, looking at NOx in 2010, transport’s contribution was 58 percent. Meanwhile, NOx from Road transport exhaust accounted for more than half of transport’s NOx contribution with lesser amounts from International shipping, Domestic shipping (European Environment Agency – 32), International aviation, Domestic aviation (EEA-32) and Railways.1

Over the many months I have been writing, I have presented information on diesel emissions. One of the most compelling pieces of such information, in my opinion, has to do with heavy-duty-vehicle-produced versus motor-vehicle-produced smog-forming emissions in terms of contribution histories.

In “CATS: Decline in smog-forming emissions from California cars a bright spot,” within this post I referenced the Public Policy Institute of California’s report: “Planning for a Better Future: California 2025: 2010 Update,” Transportation. As it has to do with heavy-duty-vehicle-produced versus motor-vehicle-produced smog-forming emissions’ contribution histories, what I offered was this: “In another ‘California Transportation’ illustration comparing years 1975 and 2006, also depicted in the form of a graph, in 1975 motor vehicles in state were responsible for 70 percent of all smog-forming emissions coming from mobile sources, whereas 30 percent of such were from heavy-duty vehicles and off-road and other mobile sources. In 2006, the tables turned: passenger vehicles produced roughly 25 percent of smog-forming emissions and heavy-duty vehicles, off-road and other mobile sources were responsible for the remainder or about 75 percent.” One of smog’s main ingredients is NOx.

Lastly, keeping in mind that this week in America is National Transportation Week, there is perhaps no better time than this very moment to be made aware of the fact (if one is not already) that transportation remains the biggest contributor of emissions worldwide. More importantly, I feel, is what is being done to counteract or combat global emissions, irrespective of the source, and then bring that information to light.


  1. For more on this, see: The contribution of transport to air quality – TERM 2012: Transport indicators tracking progress towards environmental targets in Europe, EEA Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM) Report, No. 10, 2012, European Environment Agency, Nov. 27, 2012, p. 34.

– Alan Kandel