Cancer from Cars, Trucks and Buses

Cancer from Cars, Trucks
and Buses
We are a car-loving world, driving over 600
million passenger vehicles. Our cars represent
wealth, pride and fun, while giving us comfort
and convenience, so we have a blind spot when
it comes to their downside. A big blind spot.
Globally, cars kill 1.2 million people a year
— over 3,000 a day — and injure a further 50
million.1 For anyone who has been impacted by
a car crash, it is horribly real.
Cars also fuel the fires of global warming,
since they burn fossil fuels. Our concern here,
however, is the link with cancer. There are 225
different toxic pollutants in petroleum products
— and they all end up somewhere.2
In his superb book Lives Per Gallon, Terry
Tamminen (past Secretary of the California
Environmental Protection Agency and Special
Advisor to California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger) laid out the true cost of our
addiction to oil. We have grown so used to filling
up at the pump that we rarely think what
happens to the fuel when it’s burnt.
The First Villain: Particulate Matter (PM)
These are the tiny particles of black soot that get
belched out of tailpipes when vehicles accelerate.
The smallest (2.5 microns) are the most dangerous
because they penetrate deep into our lungs (a
human hair is 100 microns thick). A 2002 study
that examined the impact of air pollution over
16 years found that deaths from lung cancer
increased by 8% for every 10 micrograms of fine
particulate matter per cubic meter.3 In 2000 the
average in New York was 16 micrograms per cubic
meter, so New Yorkers faced a 16% increased risk
of lung cancer from air pollution. It was 20 in Los
Angeles, 18 in Chicago and 15 in Washington DC.
“The risk of dying from lung cancer as well as
heart disease in the most polluted cities was comparable
to the risk associated with non-smokers
being exposed to second-hand smoke over a
long period of time,” the study reported. The
tiny particles also cause many other ailments,
including asthma.
The Second Villain: Volatile Organic
Compounds (VOCs)
That smell of diesel or gasoline fumes is not the
healthy smell of fresh flowers. What you smell
are compounds within fuels that evaporate,
which is why they are called “volatile.” They
include the highly toxic benzene, 1,3-butadiene
and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — all of
which are known to cause cancer, as well as
birth defects and lung diseases.4 Benzene is particularly
harmful, even at very low levels.5
In California, gas stations are obliged to post a
warning that the fumes can cause cancer.
The Third Villain: Diesel Exhaust
The villains work together, but it’s important to
line up diesel exhaust separately in the identity
Across the state, cancer risk is driven
greatly by benzene, and a large source of
benzene emissions is automobiles.
— Paul Dubenetsky,
Indiana Office of Air Quality
• California Diesel Activities:
• Diesel’s Cancer Risk:
• Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Addiction to Oil:
• Plug-in Hybrids:
parade because it contains hundreds of different
chemicals, “dozens of which are recognized
human toxicants, carcinogens, reproductive hazards
or endocrine disruptors.”6
Researchers found that a child riding inside a
diesel school bus may be exposed to as much as
four times the level of toxic diesel exhaust as
someone riding in a car ahead of it. These exposures
pose up to 46 times the cancer rate
considered significant under US federal law.7
On Southern California’s south coast, as
many as 8,800 people die from exposure to
diesel exhaust every year — four times more
than are killed in auto accidents.8 Overall, diesel
exhaust from cars, buses, trucks, off-road equipment
and cruise liners contributes to more than
125,000 cases of cancer a year,9 almost 9% of all
cancer cases in the US.
The problems begin at the wellhead, where a
single drop of oil can change the taste of 14 gallons
of water, and a single exploratory well
dumps 25,000 pounds of toxic metals into the
ocean.10 Whenever there’s a large-scale oil spill,
the clean-up workers get very sick. In Ecuador,
where oil is drilled for export to refineries in Los
Angeles and San Francisco, the locals call it “the
excrement of the devil.”11 The problems continue
at refineries, where fugitive emissions
poison the air of people living nearby, and cancer
rates are elevated as far as 30 miles
downwind from a facility.12
The solution is remarkably simple: stop using
oil. By switching to plug-in electric hybrid
vehicles powered by clean electricity from the
sun, wind, tides, and deep rock’s geothermal
energy, of which North America has an ample
supply, and by rediscovering walking, cycling
and the bus or train, we can leave this fossilfuelled
world and enter a world where oil no
longer causes cancer, asthma, global warming
and warfare.
The challenge is not technical: hybrid vehicles
already exist, and plug-in hybrids are just
one step away from mass production. (See
Solution 82). The challenge is political, to shake
people out of the cancer-causing comforts that
oil has given us, realize that a world without oil
will be far more healthy, peaceful, sustainable
and civilized, and make it happen.
Bringing you food, goods — and cancer.