Diesel fumes can cause cancer, the WHO (World Health Organization) stated on June 12, officially raising diesel from its status of “probable carcinogen” to “carcinogen”. The Diesel Technology Forum quickly responded to the declaration by pointing out that the diesel engines being manufactured today produce next to no emissions. While WHO admits that the chance of developing cancer from breathing diesel fumes is very unlikely, the organization pointed out that many people breathe in these fumes from diesel buses as well as semi trucks.
Kurt Straif, director of the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) compares breathing in diesel fumes to being exposed to second hand smoke. He emphasized in his statement that diesel’s new status as a carcinogen status should be the impetus for countries to clean up the diesel engines on their streets and highways.
Billions of dollars has been spent investing in reducing diesel emissions worldwide and technologies have been developed and implemented that have reduced emissions significantly to meet clean air standards. In fact, in the United States, the emissions from diesel vehicles has been reduced by 99% for nitrogen oxides and 98% for particulates. Low sulfur diesel has also helped keep the air clean in the wake of diesel vehicles.
In spite of WHO’s declaration of diesel as a carcinogen the United States still classifies it as a “likely” carcinogen. There is not enough evidence to designate the new diesel engines as risk free, but Vincent Cogliano of the EPA says the risks are certainly much lower than previously thought.
So why does this news matter to truckers? It might matter a great deal to drivers of diesel vehicles, particularly to their wallets. As pressure to decrease diesel fumes even more leads to more restrictive regulations, vehicle manufacturers must either develop more innovative technology to abide by those regulations or quit making diesel vehicles altogether. This means a rise in the price of diesel trucks and cars, and quite possibly further taxes on diesel fuel that will be passed along to the consumer.
Although more air pollution results from particles thrown off by brakes and tires than it does from diesel engines, there will undoubtedly continue to be pressure to reduce diesel emissions to zero.