Whether you live near a heavy highway or down a dirt road, understanding the risks of car exhaust from motor vehicles can help you live a healthy, happy life.
What Makes Car Exhaust So Dangerous?It can be taken for granted that car exhaust is a dangerous pollutant, but when you look at some of the most important research, you’ll see that it is not hyperbole. For example, a study published in Annals of Oncology found that occupational exposure to diesel exhaust fumes increased the risk of lung cancer. By obtaining occupational information on a total of over 1,200 people, researchers found an association between occupational exposure to diesel exhaust fumes and the increased chances of lung cancer.
As described by the OHS Rep, exhaust fumes are dangerous and cannot only harm someone, they can “even kill people” who are exposed to the pollution. They describe how exhaust fumes that contain carbon monoxide, a byproduct of traffic vehicles, can be a significant threat to overall health and wellness.
One of the best resources for the dangers of traffic exhaust comes from researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health and the University of Michigan. This massive study, which looked at traffic rates, speeds, and many other variables, found a few important points.
First, congestion and additional traffic will significantly increase the exposure rate and the risks associated with exhaust fumes. In other words, the more traffic there is, the higher your risk. However, the risks are not proportional to traffic volumes, and the increases in risk are greatly dependent on site-specific factors.
According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, vehicle exhaust emissions are dangerous because of many different chemicals, including carbon monoxide. This is a colorless and odorless gas that is poisonous to humans and other lifeforms. It interferes with our bloodstream, making it difficult for the body to carry oxygen from the lungs to our organs. Babies and people with heart diseases are particularly vulnerable to this chemical, but even otherwise healthy people can experience headaches and fatigue from carbon monoxide exposure.
Ground-level ozone emissions can also be a problem caused by car exhaust. This chemical, which we know as smog, is created when car exhaust interacts with air in the presence of sunlight. It can cause harm to our airways and decrease the lung’s capability.
Sulfur dioxide emissions are another nasty chemical expelled by cars, but only diesel engine vehicles that burn sulfur-containing fuel. This chemical can cause constriction in airways, and is a particular problem for people with asthma, as well as children with developing lungs.
When fuel is burned, it can also create air pollution in the form of nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to this chemical causes problems to the respiratory system, creating symptoms that are similar to ozone and sulfur dioxide.
Other chemicals include airborne lead (although lead in exhaust fumes has been reduced thanks to unleaded fuel), as well as particulate matter, formaldehyde, and benzene.
Clearly, exposure to vehicle traffic is dangerous, and even if you live in a low-traffic area, you have to understand how to reduce exposure. The same could be said for clearing industrial smoke.
Protecting Yourself from Car ExhaustBecause car exhaust has been heavily connected to lung problems, it is a topic of great concern for the American Lung Association. They claim that as much as 45% of the urban population in North American lives near a “busy road.” This means that millions of people on our continent need to be taking measures to reduce their exposure to this harmful air pollutant. Protecting from car exhaust, fortunately, is easy.
So, what can be done?
If you can’t change air pollution outside (at least not directly or significantly), you need to make your house a haven of clean indoor air, which will mean monitoring the air around you, cleaning the air inside your home, and reducing the amount of contaminants that reach the inside.
Keep Windows Shut During High-Traffic TimesPerhaps the most significant step you can take to reduce car exhaust emissions from entering your home is to keep windows closed when traffic is busy. During the early morning rush and the afternoon commute, close the windows and doors so less contaminants from a motor vehicle can enter your home. You may have to run the A/C, but if traffic is heavy, it may help your lungs.
Even if you can’t see the traffic, freeway pollution can reach your home. According to a Los Angeles Times article, traffic pollution can travel more than a mile from the road.