Adverse Health Effects of Diesel Exhaust

diesel exhaust

Diesel is a type of fuel that comes from crude oil. It’s useful for commercial and industrial purposes, powering big engines in trucks, buses, trains, construction equipment, farm equipment, etc. Unfortunately, as specialists ranging from health experts to lemon law experts and just about everyone in between will tell you, the exhaust from this fuel can also pose serious health risks. Potential exposure could be deleterious to your long-term wellbeing, and this article will outline some of the potential effects so you can better understand said risks.

So What Is Diesel Exhaust?

Broadly speaking, diesel exhaust contains two parts—the gases that make up the fuel and solid particles that are mixed in as well. The gases within diesel exhaust are typically made up of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur oxides, and hydrocarbons. The particles (which might also be referred to as soot) usually contain a blend of organic and metallic compounds, along with PAHs  (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

How Does Diesel Exhaust Exposure Occur?

That complex mixture of gases and particles shoots out onto roads, throughout cities, and across the countryside whenever a diesel-powered engine passes. People in these areas can then breathe in diesel exhaust from the air, in varying amounts depending on their location, occupation, personal habits, etc. Individuals who work directly with machines that emit diesel exhaust—like truck drivers, miners, and other heavy equipment operators—are at the highest risk for exposure, but anyone who lives or works in an area where diesel engines are present can potentially be exposed to exhaust and suffer some of the negative effects.

How Can Diesel Exhaust Affect The Human Body?

When humans breathe diesel exhaust, the toxic gases and particles enter the lungs and start to disrupt the delicate balance within the body. The immediate effects that come along with exposure to diesel exhaust often start with irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Diesel exhaust can cause you to cough, give you a headache, and even lightheadedness or nausea. 

If you’re prone to allergies or have other conditions, these initial effects may be even more severe. Those with asthma, lung problems, or chronic heart problems may experience a sudden worsening of their health issues, to the point where hospitalization is necessary to help prevent serious injury or death. In addition to all of this, though, diesel exhaust can even have long term effects on the body that cause negative health effects further down the line:

“Chronic exposures are associated with cough, sputum production and lung function decrements. In addition to symptoms, exposure studies in healthy humans have documented a number of profound inflammatory changes in the airways, notably, before changes in pulmonary function can be detected. It is likely that such effects may be even more detrimental in asthmatics and other subjects with compromised pulmonary function.”

Most worryingly, though, there is evidence to suggest that continued exposure to diesel exhaust may contribute to cancer. A comprehensive examination by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment demonstrated that people who worked around diesel equipment were more likely to develop cancers than people who did not work around such equipment, and this conclusion is backed up by other agencies like the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.