Region 1: EPA New England
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 (excludes fugitive dust emissions from agricultural particles) in New England. Click here for more information on fine particles in New England.
- 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.
- Also, Diesel Particulate Matter is likely to cause cancer in humans and cause other acute and chronic health effects.
- For more information about EPA's Health Assessment Document for Diesel Exhaust click here.
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 more 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.