The combination of smoke and fog have given us the word smog first generally attributed to Dr Henry Veoux in the early 1900′s. Photochemical smog was first coined in the 1950′s to describe the chemical reaction in sunlight of pollutants from car exhausts and other sources. The following gases and compounds are all producted by vehicle emissions which not only contribute directly or indirectly to producing smog and polluted air conditions in our city landscapes but also have severe health consequences as a society. Nitrogen Dioxide - the familiar brown tinge associated with smog comes from nitrogen dioxide. About 80% of nitrogen dioxide in our cities is produced by vehicle exhausts. Although this image is from Shanghai, Australian cities are also subject to major air pollution and photochemical smog.Carbon Monoxide - another toxic gas, carbon monoxide is part of the urban pollution mix, mainly due to vehicle exhaust emissions according to the US EPA. This colourless, odourless gas is deadly in confined spaces. As an air pollutant it is most harmful to those suffering from heart and respiratory disease but is also dangerous for healthy individuals.Sulphur Dioxide - although not a major source of air pollution from vehicle exhausts sulphur dioxide is another pollutant which has adverse health effects.Particulate Matter - suspended particles are another air quality and health issue. The smaller the particle the more damage can be done to the lungs with particles less than 10 microns in size (referred to as PM-10) being of most concern as they can penetrate deep into the lungs. Ultra fine particulate matter is a growing concern amongst health professionals.Diesel vehicles currently product 60 per cent of the particulate matter emitted by road transport and by 2015 it is expected diesel vehicles will represent 15% of the fleet In Australia, a 6% rise from current levels. Despite the introduction of more stringent regulations such as EU5 (European Union 5) standards in January 2011 Australians are faced with a situation of an expansion in the polluting diesel fleet.
Electric trucks and commercial vehicles are available in Europe and the US with zero localised emissions and zero particulate matter. Should we be using diesel or electric in our cities?
Benzene - there are no safe levels of airborne benezene which is a known carcinogen. The major source of this toxin is from vehicle emissions and evaporation during the handling and storing of petroleum. The air we breathe accounts for more than 99% of the exposure to this carcinogen with minimal amounts being ingested from food or water.
The air we breathe – smog in Sydney – photochemical smog affects all Australian cities.Formaldehyde - this toxic compound is produced from many sources and may be present at higher levels inside the home than outside. It is used in glues and resins and in many household products. However it is yet another dangerous product from vehicle exhausts. It is classified by the NOHSC as a category 2 carcinogen and can lead to a range of health issues with high levels of exposure leading to death.Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - PAHs are complex chemical compounds and are produced as byproducts of fuel burning. Most exposure to these chemicals occurs when people breathe smoke, auto emissions or industrial exhausts. Exposure can also taken place through ingestion or skin contact. Most exhausts contain many different PAH compounds. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that PAHs may be carcinogens.
USC Scientists study the health effects of air pollution
An electric fleet would eliminate these localised pollutants from our air providing a much healthier environment and better air quality. Like a smoker who has quit and enjoys the benefits of better overall health and improved lung function our cities will enjoy similar benefits from making the switch to an electric fleet.
It is estimated by the New South Wales Department of Health that air pollution costs NSW $4.7 billion per annum in health costs. Air pollution is responsible for 2.3% of all deaths in Australia. Air pollution causes more deaths in NSW annually than traffic accidents. Between 640 and 1400 people die prematurely each year due to air pollution and air pollution is the cause of 2000 hospitalisations annually in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan region.
It’s now time for our fleets to quit smoking and for governments to accelerate this by offering incentives and tax breaks for clean cars and commercial vehicles.
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