Report Says Excess Diesel Emissions Caused 38,000 Premature Deaths

Cause for concern, or fake news?

Getty Images / Peter Dazeley

According to a report from Nature, an “international weekly journal of science”, diesel emissions are much more harmful than we previously thought. The report says diesel emissions not only affect the climate, but crop yields and human health. The observation covered 11 major vehicle markets: the European Union, China, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, and Brazil.

The problem comes from real-world diesel applications producing many more nitrogen oxides than observed in laboratory testing. This isn’t just a cheat device issue—it’s quite a bit bigger than that. Unsurprisingly, the report says heavy-duty vehicles are the biggest contributor of excess diesel emissions. The total is 4.6 million tons more emissions than international standards allow.

The study concludes a whopping 38,000 premature deaths were caused worldwide by these excess emissions in 2015. How do diesel emissions kill people? Nitrogen oxides damage lung tissues and react with other chemicals to form ozone. Ozone makes lung diseases like asthma worse.

When examining where most of the diesel-related premature deaths occurred, Europe came out as the loser with 11,500 deaths, China came in second, with 10,700 deaths, and the US had just 1,100 diesel emissions-related deaths.

So what’s the solution? The study from Nature spells a lot of doom-and-gloom if next-generation emissions standards aren’t met. It projects up to 174,000 premature deaths in 2040 if automakers don’t get their act together. However, if automakers adopt and enforce tougher standards, they “could nearly eliminate real-world diesel-related NOx emissions” according to the report. They strongly suggest “implementing Euro VI standards where they have not yet been adopted for heavy-duty vehicles.”

I guess Elon needs to hurry up on that electric big rig.