Health effects from diesel pollution

We work to reduce diesel pollution. Diesel exhaust puts healthy people at risk for asthma and respiratory illnesses. For other people, it can make their existing heart and lung diseases worse. Diesel exhaust contains fine particles, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants.

EPA classifies diesel exhaust as likely to cause cancer. In Washington, 70 percent of the cancer risk from pollutants in the air is from diesel exhaust.

Diesel pollution is harmful to your health

Diesel exhaust contains fine particles, nitrogen oxides <link>, and other pollutants. In warm weather, hot sunlight bakes nitrogen oxides together with other pollutants which forms harmful smog. This is also known as ground-level ozone.

Ground-level ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue and damages people's health. You might think of it as sunburn on your lungs. Breathing ground-level ozone can lead to several types of health problems, such as:

  • Coughing, throat, and chest irritation:  High levels of ground-level ozone can irritate your respiratory system. Symptoms are mild and usually only last for a few hours after you've been exposed to it. However, ozone can continue to harm your lungs even after symptoms disappear.
  • Difficulty breathing and lung damage:  Because of ground-level ozone’s effect on lung function, it can make deep breathing difficult, especially during exercise. Research has shown that exposure can also damage the lining of your lungs.
  • Worsening asthma symptoms:  If you suffer from asthma, being exposed to high levels of ground-level ozone can trigger asthma attacks.

How you can protect yourself

  • Check current air quality conditions.
  • Avoid exercising near high traffic areas.
  • Avoid heavy transportation routes.
  • Don't drive a diesel vehicle.
  • Avoid living near freight routes, warehouse districts, ports, or rail yards.
  • Use a HEPA filter in your home.
  • Wear an N95 mask when air quality is unhealthy.
  • Close your car windows and vents and set the air to recirculate.

Diesel pollution in Washington

Over four million people in Washington live and work near diesel exhaust. You can help reduce greenhouse gases and cut down on diesel exhaust:

  • Reduce idling.
  • Use cleaner fuels.
  • Install equipment to clean up diesel exhaust (retrofitting).
  • Replace older engines with new, cleaner ones.