All gasoline-powered vehicles cause pollution, and that comes as no surprise. What’s surprising is the amount of damage they can do to your health and the health of your children. Cars emit nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds, and when these chemicals combine with sunlight, they create smog. Nearly 120 million Americans live in cities where the smog-filled air is dangerous to breathe. Pollution in the air can aggravate asthma, cause respiratory illnesses, and even restrict blood vessels. And many of the worst-polluting vehicles are actually the most popular on the road today. Is your car one of them?
In America, sport utility vehicles are legally allowed to emit 30 percent more carbon monoxide and burn a third more fuel than a compact car. SUVs dump thousands of tons of toxins into the air every day, especially during the peak pollution months in summertime. The problem has gotten so bad that cities with high pollution levels like London and New York have regulations in place for driving SUVs, and Paris has even considered banning them altogether. The carbon monoxide released by SUVs reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and air pollution caused by carbon monoxide has been directly linked to the rise in heart disease. The risks involved with owning these big vehicles with their big engines really hasn’t been exaggerated.
2. Diesel Cars
Mercedes has historically landed in the top 10 for most polluting cars because of the prevalence and popularity of the diesel engine. Diesel cars get better gas mileage than a standard spark-ignition engine, but the increase in nitrogen oxide emissions as well as the carcinogens in diesel exhaust make them an environmental and health hazard. Large trucks and ships that use diesel have been strictly regulated the past ten years, and the old kind of diesel engines aren’t produced anymore. But older sports cars that run on diesel, such as Alfa Romeos or Bentleys, are still around today. Newer diesel cars are actually considered environmentally friendly because of their incredible economy and ability to run solely on low-sulfur diesel fuel. But even that fuel produces 13 percent more CO2 than a gas engine, and breathing it can cause asthma, allergies, and bronchitis, especially in children.
3. Older Cars
The fact that older cars pollute more than newer cars should not come as a shock, given the increase in environmental awareness and technological advancements of recent decades. Classic cars built before the mid-1970s are the worst offenders – their emissions are horrendous by today’s standards. But ever since the recession, new car sales plummeted and older cars started staying on the roads a lot longer. The average age of vehicle driven today is 8 years, which is causing a huge increase in tailpipe emissions and nitrogen oxide in the air. When air pollution is high, public officials recommend that children and the elderly, as well as people with heart and respiratory conditions, stay indoors. This is why the government has tried to encourage people to drive newer cars with programs like 2009’s Cash for Clunkers.
4. Pickup Trucks
The worst offenders when it comes to truck pollution are, of course, the big rigs, which burn diesel fuel and often emit as much pollution as 150 regular cars. But large pickup trucks, anything over 8,500 pounds, are classified as big trucks, too, and they can pump just as many toxins into the air. Many people need to drive pickup trucks to haul equipment for work, or if they’re towing other vehicles or trailers. But there’s been a push recently to get pickup drivers to buy trucks with newer engines, capable of running on cleaner diesel fuel, or else to buy used trucks that can be converted to biodiesel. Unfortunately, many pickup owners aren’t willing to do that because biodiesel reduces the power and fuel economy of the vehicle by about 10 percent.
Air pollution from cars and trucks is nothing to be taken lightly. Not only do toxins from fuel cause cancer, they can also lead to heart attack and stroke, and it’s hard to imagine that pollution isn’t directly involved with the huge spike in heart disease in the United States. Carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide can make the air incredibly difficult to breathe, leading to extremely unhealthy conditions, especially in urban areas. To make it worse, economic conditions are so bad that most people can’t afford greener, more economical vehicles. It’s up to consumers to be aware of the dangers that come from driving, and that includes pollution. When you help the planet, you’re helping your family most of all.
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