In unsurprising yet disturbing news, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) confirmed that the nasty fumes from diesel fuel can cause lung cancer.
This study adds to reports connecting diesel fuel to a wide range of negative health effects including bronchitis, heart disease, emphysema, and severe asthma emergencies.
In the U.S. alone, diesel fuel is used for trucks, buses, construction and farm equipment, trains, and ships, adding up to as much as an estimated $300 billion in annual health costs and 50,000 premature deaths. In the developing world, these numbers are considerably higher as more diesel fuel is used, and there are fewer (but growing) investments in clean energy.
Thankfully, there are ways to clean up diesel fuel somewhat. Reducing sulfur levels creates a dramatically cleaner exhaust. Filtered fuels became standard in 2006, and diesel engines in the United States are currently about 90% cleaner than before these changes. However, diesel engines in countries such as Mexico, China, and India have sulfur fumes as much as 30 times higher than those in the U.S., and countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America have fumes as much as 300 times higher.
While the U.S. has some of the least polluting diesel fuel in the world, there are still plenty of dirty engines on the road. Congress has yet to fund any legislation to replace the dirtiest diesels, and worldwide, most governments have yet to commit to phasing out dirty fuels and replacing them with cleaner alternatives. If it saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year, what’s the hesitation?