It’s an unrelenting scourge that will stay with us from our childhood until our last breath. It is waiting for our kids every morning at the school bus stop. And if you are an adult regularly using public transportation, it will also stalk you. I’m talking about pollution from diesel, the fuel that powers virtually the totality of buses and trucks in the US and takes tens of thousands of lives each year.
According to the World Health Organization, diesel fumes cause close to 40,000 deaths a year around the world, and experts figure that in a little more than 20 years, that toll will hit close to 200,000.
The stench of this fossil fuel betrays its extreme toxicity. Upon burning, diesel fuel releases a dangerous witches’ brew of nitrogen and sulfur oxides, which after combining with other compounds in the atmosphere, produces ground level ozone, or smog, and the potentially deadly particulate matter.
That black smoke spewed by millions of vehicles contains soot, a basic component of particulate matter, which, because of its microscopic size, can lodge itself in the most remote corners of your lungs. This can cause asthma attacks, emphysema, heart disease, cancer, and premature death.
And if you are Latino, this crisis is especially grave. A new EPA study revealed that particulate matter sources disproportionately impact low-income and ethnic communities. The report demonstrates once again that the reprehensible history of economic injustice and environmental racism regarding air pollution continues in the US, including the following:
-People living below the poverty line are 35 percent more likely to suffer the impact of this pollution than the population as a whole.
-Non-whites are 28 percent more likely to feel this impact than non-Hispanic whites.
-Latinos are 23 percent more likely to suffer it than non-Hispanic whites.
“It is unacceptable that communities of color and low income communities must disproportionately face the sickening and life-threatening consequences of fossil fuel pollution,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “The status quo is clearly bad enough, yet the Trump administration is working hand-in-hand with corporate polluters to roll back many of the safeguards that could protect families, making a dangerous situation much, much worse.”
The main culprit in this collusion with corporate polluters is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Since he took over the leadership of this agency so critical to the protection of public health, Pruitt has methodically worked to destroy it, including undermining programs monitoring the effects of pollution on children, decimating almost 70 basic public health protections, demoralizing the agency’s staff, and becoming the Trump administration’s most dangerous member.
The most outrageous aspect of this situation is that solutions to improve the quality of the air we all breathe already exist.
The most outrageous aspect of this situation is that solutions to improve the quality of the air we all breathe already exist. In the case of diesel pollution, the key is called zero emissions vehicles. A zero emission bus powered by batteries can save close to 1,700 tons of carbon a year, without emitting a single gram of toxic fumes. These buses can recharge in a matter of minutes and have an autonomy of up to 4.5 hours. Also, each one of them can save up to $350,000 in maintenance over its lifetime.
Latinos are fuming over diesel pollution. Fortunately, cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are already adopting this zero emissions transportation.
By Javier Sierra
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC.
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