Air Pollution by Automobiles

Air Pollution by Automobiles

Automobile invention has continued to have profound effects in the world due to the fact that they have been owned by a large number of people, particularly in the U.S. This overreliance in automobile has generated environmental and health concerns, which triggera number of global debates. Automobiles haveagreat environmental and lifestyle impact, an aspect that is attributed to the fossil fuel combustion (Wallace 138).  The extent of automobiles pollutants differs and includestoxic exhaust emissions suchas carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, VOCs as well as particulate matters. Besides, the evaporative emissionsemanate from fuel vaporsthat are emitted to the atmosphere,having not been fully combusted. The vapor could be managed by properly capping the fuel tanks, avoidance of having the petrol overfilled or aIDressing any leakages. Automobiles also release smoke,which contains incompletely combustedbyproductsthat are toxic to the eyes and the respiratory system, thus detrimental to human health. This is however, dependent on the periods of exposure, age, the health status of an individual and the concentration of these fumes that one is exposed to. This paper shall aIDress specific automobile pollutants in relation to causes and public health,to draft possiblerecommendations to the obstacles, in order to manage the problem.

Causes of automobile Pollution

Air pollution has long been associated with motor vehicles as they are operated, fueled, manufactured and even when they are disposed. Moreover, pollution occurs at the time of distributing and refining of the fuels. With urbanization, many people have owned vehicles that have continued to cause heavy traffics leading to increased pollution.  The automobiles are related to primaryas well as secondary pollution. Primary pollution occurs when there are direct emissions into the atmosphere while secondary pollution is incurred when there are chemical reactions for the emitted pollutants with the atmosphere itself.

Specific Pollutants and Health Effects

Particulate Matter

The main motor vehiclepollutants include, particulate matter, which are particlescontaining metal and soot andmake smog to become murky. Theparticles are so fine and pose as a great danger to human health, as they are inhaled to damage the respiratorysystem. Nitrogen oxides,sulfur dioxides as well as hydrocarbons are emitted together with the particles and therefore,are enhancedas secondary pollutants. Particulate matter contains particles close to a diameter of ten micrometers in the atmosphere. Larger particles contain smoke as well as soot that have been incompletely combusted especially from diesel. PM hasbeen pointed out as the most hazardous constituent of automobile exhaust(CTA 9).

They infiltrate the respiratory system building up to become irritants and leads to nasal congestion, sinusitis and asthma. Exposure to PM is directly linked with asthmaand subsequent hospitalizations. According to International Centre for Technology Assessment (CTA), “ for every 10 micrograms/meter3 increase in PM exposure, hospital admissions rose by 7% for patients with respiratory disease, 3.5% for patients with acute respiratory illnesses, and 3% for patients with cardiovascular disease” (9).  On the same note, California EPA maintains that for each “10 micrograms/meter3 increase in PM exposure level to 2.5% cause increase in emergency room visits and 1% increase in mortality for people with pneumonia” (CTA 9). Besides, many Americansend up having premature deaths due to PM exposure. Exposure to PM for instance may lead to irritations in the respiratory system, which leads to cognitive complications as well as depression.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

VOCs are as well referred to as aromatic hydrocarbons and are emitted when burning or on vaporizing fossil fuels. They include benzene,toluene, and formaldehydes among others (Krzy?anowski et al. 55). They are detrimental environmentally and adversely affect human health, having been identified as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). For instance, 12, 3-butadiene and benzene have been identified as being carcinogenicand areattributed to cause breast cancer.These carcinogens affect an individual with increased exposure while inhaled benzene has been linked with leukemia (CTA 13). It may also cause mutations and changes in bone marrow and blood cells. A separate study reflects that ethyl benzene has been attributed to tumorgrowth while exposure to benzene by females leads to menstrual abnormalities as well as atrophied ovaries and infertilities (CTA 13).  Exposure to 12, 3-butadine affects the respiratory system and skeletal deformities while inhaled toluene causes lung irritations, CNS disorders and spontaneous abortions.

Carbon Monoxide

CO is released as gaseous byproduct when gasoline and diesel burns incompletely. According to CTA,  “ a newer model, properly maintained car, emits about 420 pounds of CO eachyear, while a newer model, properly maintained SUV, emits 547 pounds over the same period” (23). As a result, poorly maintained old automobiles,which have faulty emission control systems,lead to more emissions of carbon monoxide. Besides, a cold Engine releases more carbon monoxide as compared to a warmer one. Hence, the emission of this gas in cities is notably more during winter as compared to summer.In general 60 percent of carbon monoxide emission is from automobiles, but in cities it is emitted by up to 95 percent due to traffic jams (CTA 23).

The chemical substance released is the carbon monoxide, which is highly toxic and is emitted during the burning of gasoline. After it is inhaled, it interferes with oxygen circulation in the body’s vital organs such as the brain and heartthrough combining with hemoglobin. This may not only accelerate the already present illnesses within the body, but also could lead to death. When oxygen brain supply diminishes, this may affect cognitive function of a person. CO toxicity is fatal and is attributed to over ten thousand hospitalizations annuallyin the U.S.  It is also attributed to suicidal deaths where individuals intoxicate themselves from the exhaust content. Accidental fatalities in the U.S since 1977 to 1988 were over one thousand one hundred individuals,who died while riding in these automobiles (CTA 23).  Acute intoxication with carbon monoxide causes inadequate oxygen supply in vital organs, which adversely affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly and individuals with cardiovascular diseases.

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) conducted tests during onrush and off- rush hours and noted that   “average in-car CO levels ranged from 3.5 ppm in the freeway carpool lanes to 5.1 ppm in regular freeway lanes during rush hour. The average peak CO concentrations in the lead test car during the freeway rush hour runs were 34.0ppm. Compared to 26.5 ppm for freeway non rush hour runs, and 9.0 ppm for freeway carpool lane runs” (CTA 27). This was attributed to traffics jam where large trucks emit more CO and intoxicate the rest vehicles.

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen Oxides not only causes ground-level ozone but is alsois attributed to the formation of acid rain. As a result, respiratory irritation occurs that could deteriorate related illnesses such as asthma. It results to a reduced lung capacity and therefore, one becomes prone to infections resulting to asthma influenza and also pneumonia. If exposure does not exceed 30ppb, hypersensitivity of airways occurs while 15ppb results to irritations. Over 80ppb leads to respiratory diseases (CTA 32). Nitrogen oxides that are emitted by automobiles irritate the lungs weakening the immunity against respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia. Nitrogen oxides also are attributed to the formation of particulate matter as well as ozone near the ground (Sevigny 1).


Ozone at ground level is detrimental to human health resulting from smog, which is usually great in summer. Ozone is not only caustic but is attributed to lung damage and respiratoryillnessessuch as asthma.It also causes irritation on reduced exposure but more exposure is linked to hospitalizations as reflected from a met analysis study, which indicate that“asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease increase by 6% for every 50 ppb increase in peak ozone exposure” (CTA 33).This affects especially children and old people, exacerbates asthma and results to fatalities for persons over the age of sixty five. However, ozone is formed as a result of a chemical reaction from automobile pollutants and sunlight (Frumkin 202).

Hydrocarbons, Sulfur dioxide and Lead

Yet another component of automobile pollutants is the hydrocarbons. They undergo a reaction with nitrogen oxides under solar energyto comprise the ozone which is usually at a ground level to result to smog. Ozone is very essential when it in the upper atmosphere but when it’s near the ground, it is attributed to respiratory system irritation leading to coughs, chocks, as well as a declined lung capacity.

Sulfur dioxide on the other hand is released by motorvehicle after combustion of fuels comprising sulfur such as diesels (Krzy?anowski et al. 37). It is known to react with the atmosphere to result to substances that are dangerous to the newborns and the people who have asthma. Other toxic chemical substances emitted by automobiles have been associated with defective births, cancer as well as other diseases. They especially have been directly linked with the rise in global fatalities, and such emissions include lead. Leaded gasoline has long beencausing lead pollution until it was banned in the U.S but it is still in use in other parts of the world. Lead for instance,is known as a cumulative toxin,which defects the brain development especially in  small children and most importantly, has been linked with hypertension and related fatalities. Lead exposure is mostly achieved from leaded gasoline.It impairs the central nervous system thus deteriorates the mental function, resulting to memory and learning impairment. Lead causes neurological dysfunction and results to psychological anguish that may deteriorate the mental state of a person.  Lead exposure results to neurotoxicity, which impairs cognitive functions

Efforts to Curb Automobile Pollution

Automobile pollution not only causes health concerns such as lung cancers, but also has secondary effects when emitted to the atmosphere. This has raised the concern of the government and various environmental agencies in the U.S.Since 1970s, air quality has been pursued by the United States government through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Sevigny 1).  The passage of Motor Vehicle Air pollution Control Act of 1965 by the federal government had to review level of automobile emission to set the appropriate standards (Jacobson 211). The Nixon Administration tried to manage pollution from automobile as one of its many objectiveswhen it passed the Clean Air Act in 1965 (Bates & Kennedy 5). It defined the extent to which pollutants should not exceedby involving particular airborne hazards. Even with the passage of such laws, automobiles have continued to pollute the quality of air inhaled in the U.S and other parts of the globe.Many resident live in regions already declared as risky since they fail to meet the standards of the federal air quality, posing a public health risk that need to be aIDressed seriously. Automobiles air pollution has hazardouseffect on both the motorist and non-motorists. Relatedlegislations have not been fruitful and the quality of air has remained a global concern for decades.This calls for a multidisciplinary perspective to deal with the problem, which should be involved at a personal, governmental and community level.

Government Policy

To implement this, the government could advocate for voluntary abstention, enhancing public transit through other means as trains, have a different roads for commercial and private automobiles so as to have a reduction in the traffic and for efficiency. Besides, the government could include parks along the roads for bicycling and walking, to ensure there are walk paths and infrastructure for electric vehicles.It is within its reach to ensure reduced commuting through restructuring the urban setups, offering reward schemes, penalty schemes and implementing laws on fossil fuel usage.It could raise the concern of automobile pollutants by holding campaign rallies for alternatives energy such as natural gas,biofuels and use of electric cars (zell et al. 26). Moreover, automobile manufacturers should also ensure that they make cars,which are energy efficient,to curb the vice.  Highway construction should be regulated and the government should find other means of achieving mass transportation. This is becausetraffic jams expose people to the risks and at the long run, limit efficiency. Smaller car also consumes less gasoline and moves faster while in the traffic.

Americans drives to their destinations covering more miles and limit by traffic, which increases the time taken to cover a small distance. People are more concerned about reaching to their destinations within the shortest time possible and less on the effects of their action to the public health. In-car pollution is often higher and thereforerisky to human health since it has more carbon monoxide, toluene, benzene, nitrogen oxides and other particulates, which comes from the gasoline and diesel combustion. Benzene is a carcinogenic, carbon monoxide affects efficiency in blood oxygen circulation,while particulate matter is liked with many fatalities. This calls for public health officials to create awareness since this is hazardous to the susceptible persons such as the old, childrenand individualswith asthma. In aIDition, driving less is recommendable at a personal level and only using the vehicle if there is a great need to.

Obstacles and Recommendations

Failure of policymakers; they  have neglected ideas, which could prove effective in managing pollution from automobiles such as advocating for drivingless, proper maintenance of vehicles and taking public transport, which are some of the ways to reduce automobile pollution. It is therefore, the role of policymakers to aIDress the issue at a personal level. The EPA should aIDress the use of alternative transit means (Agarwal 23).

Failure to fund crucial projects; the federal, state as well as the local governments should fund the public means of transport initiatives for areas that have elevatedtraffic jams level.In Los Angeles for instance, the traffic congestion has to be eliminated to reduce pollution while advocating for public transit. In such a place, funding public transit projects would come in handy to ease traffic congestion.

Failure to implement the laws; tax incentives and breaks should be enforced to promote and discouragepublic transport respectively (zell et al. 20). The automobiles have to have a reduction in nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions. The diesel fuels should have reduced level of sulfur by issuance of a timely toxic rule to phase outdangerous chemical emission such as benzene, xylenes, VOCs, toluene among others.

Technology failure; Vehicle technology should do more to reduce exhaust pollutants such as EPA Tier 2 rules that ensure seventy five percent cleaner automobiles as compared to current ones. This means less sulfur gasoline but it should also advocate for zero emission automobiles e.g. electric vehicles (Zell et al. 6). Diesel vehicles should be phased out since they emit large amounts of pollutants e.g. PM, as EPA is geared to reduce PM emission by ninety percent (CTA 38). All the same, the agency has continued to face great opposition in its efforts to reduce automobile pollution. The fuel companies and engine manufacturers for instance have greatly opposed the passage of these recommendations such as that of reducing sulfur in diesel (Zell et al. 6). The motor trade associations such as Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, within the U.S maintain that it is not within their reach two regulate automobile emissions (Krier&Ursin 90).


From various studies, it is clear that health implications from automobile pollution range from respiratory irritation to neurological effects and cancer. This is due to particulate matters, CO, VOCs and nitrogen oxides, which not only affects the driver but also the pedestrians as well. Efforts have to be invested to safeguard the public health. To safeguard human health, it is recommendable to follow simple rules such as ensuring proper air flow in and out of the car. Traffic congestion and nearness to high polluting automobiles resultto more health implications. Making, driving, and fueling automobiles has posed various risks and therefore, raises a public health concern since it leads to a reduced health span. Automobile emissions have also been linked with the environmental concern of global warming due to the release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. It is the role of each and every person to manage pollution from automobiles, by driving less and taking public transit means. This not only improves the humanity’s overall wellbeing by maintaininga good health, but most importantly, safeguards the environment to make it a better place for mankind and other organisms.




Works Cited

Agarwal, Shyam. Automobile Pollution, Concerns, Priorities, and Challenges. New          Delhi:  Ashish Publishing House, 1991. Print.

Bates, Richard and Kennedy,Donald.Air Pollution, the Automobile, and Public Health.   Washington, DC:  National Academies Press, 1988. Print.

Frumkin, Howard. “Urban Sprawl and Public Health Association of Schools of Public    Health.”Public Health reports, Vol.117. Web.

International Centre for Technology Assessment (CTA). “In-car Air Pollution: The            HiIDen Threat to Automobile Drivers. An Assessment of Air Quality inside       Automobile passenger Compartments.”Report No. 4. 2000. Web.

Jacobson,Mark. Atmospheric Pollution: History, Science, and Regulation. New     York:   Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Krier, James and Ursin, Edmund.Pollution and Policy: A Case Essay on California and Federal Experience with Motor Vehicle Air Pollution, 1940-1975. Berkeley:    University of California Press, 1977. Print.

Krzy?anowski, Micha?., Kuna-Dibbert, Birgit and Schneider, Jürge . Health Effects of       Transport-Related Air Pollution. Denmark: WHO Regional Office Europe, 2005.          Print.

Sevigny,Maureen. Taxing Automobile Emissions for Pollution Control. Cheltenham:       Edward Elgar Publishing, 1998. Print.

Wallace, David. Environmental Policy and Industrial Innovation: Strategies in Europe,     the USA and Japan. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1995. Print.

Zell, Erica., Lough, Glynis and Murphy, Michael. “Air Quality Management Technical     assistance for Central America Grant X4-83387601-0.”Clean Fuels and Vehicles   Recommendations for Central America and the Dominican Republic. 2009. Web.


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