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Diesel Exhaust

Diesel exhaust contains more than forty hazardous air pollutants – vapors, gases, and fine particles – of which twenty-one have been identified by the EPA as known or suspected carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and 1,3 butadiene.


Exposure to diesel exhaust and its particulate matter has been proven to exacerbate asthma symptoms and recent findings suggest that it may also be a causal agent for this disease. Diesel exhaust has also been implicated in cardiovascular disease and the development of lung and breast cancer. The EPA has stated that there is no safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust.

Children are especially vulnerable to exposure to diesel exhaust because their lungs are still developing - a process which is not complete until they reach their late teens. Respiratory development includes rapid rates of cell differentiation, cell division, and airway branching. The average diameter of a diesel particle is tiny (0.2 micrometers), which means they can penetrate deeper into a child’s lungs where they are more likely to be retained.

Low sulfur fuels are better. While conventional diesel can contain upwards of 700 ppm of sulfur, low sulfur fuels, often called ‘cleaner diesel’ or ‘green diesel’, contain no more than 30 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur.

Fast Facts

  • Diesel exhaust contains more than 21 air pollutants that have been identified by the EPA as known or suspected carcinogens.


  • Exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with the development of asthma, cardiovascular disease, lung and breast cancer.


  • Children, whose respiratory systems are just developing, are more vulnerable to the fine particles contained in diesel exhaust which can lodge deep in their lungs.  

Low sulfur fuels produce fewer emissions of particulates, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide. It is estimated that a complete conversion to low sulfur fuels would be the equivalent of removing two million vehicles from our roads.


Biodiesel fuel is an alternative to diesel that has gone through rigorous testing for health and environmental effects. This fuel, made from vegetable oils (primarily soybean), can reduce targeted cancer-causing compounds by up to 90 percent. In addition, biodiesel works in diesel engines with little or no engine modifications.

Diesel Exhaust Resources
Diesel Exhaust Resources
Print Materials
Web Resources 

Related Websites
  • The ChildSafe School - This award-winning program promotes and provides a framework for  a comprehensive approach to reducing environmental toxins in schools. Core issues include diesel exhaust from idling school buses, pesticides used on school grounds, cleaning products for interior use and emerging environmental health issues, including artificial turf fields, wireless technologies and fragrances.

  • How Green Is My Town?This online program, which addresses the three inextricably linked issues of sustainability, climate change and environmental health, provides a blueprint for 50 discreet issues, and contains the resources, templates, science and other essential tools to help every town achieve its environmental priorities. 

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