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Diesel Exposure

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Diesel Exhaust and Your Health
  • Diesel exhaust contains significant levels of small particles, known as fine particulate matter.  Fine particles are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. 
  • Diesel engines are the third largest human-made source of fine particles contributing more than 20 percent of directly emitted fine particles (not including those from agriculture) in some regions of the United States.
  • Fine particles in the air are a serious public health problem.  They pose a significant health risk because they can pass through the nose and throat and lodge themselves in the lungs.  These fine particles can cause lung damage and premature death.  They can also aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.
  • Nationwide, particulate matter, especially fine particles, is responsible for 15,000 premature deaths every year.
  • The Washington State Department of Ecology has identified diesel exhast as the air pollutant most harmful to public health in Washington State.  Seventy percent of the cancer risk from airborne pollutants is from diesel exhaust.  It puts healthy people at risk for respiratory disease and worsens the symptoms of people with health problems such as asthma, heart disease, and lung disease. 
  • More than four million people in Washington live or work close to highways and other major roads where they are most likely to be exposed to diesel exhaust
Who is most at risk?
  • People with existing heart or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory problems are most sensitive to the health effects of fine particles.  The elderly and children are also at risk.
  • Children are most sensitive to air pollution because they breathe at a faster rate than adults.
Other Health and Environmental Effects
  • Fine particles from diesel engines contribute to haze, which restricts our ability to see long distances
  • Diesel exhaust also contributes to ozone formation (or smog), acid rain, and global climate change.