Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Monday, 28 September 2015

Diesel from a Public Health Perspective: Lessons from California

I am sure you are a writer or someone who enjoys discussions about matters of everyday or not so everyday concern. In this series called "from a Public health Perspective," I hope to bring to the forefront themes, subjects and materials that have not been common in the dialogue or ethos of our realm of everyday life.

This will be part of doctoral and postdoctoral level works combining research, community health education, immunology, health and public health.

In the series I shall write a short narrative geared at provoking deeper understanding and critiquing. I hope you join in and help make this an educative platform. We need to bring more subjects into the conversational arena if we want to contribute to a critical mass of practices that engender care for others and the Earth.

This is the first of the series: Diesel from a Public Health Perspective!

Diesel is a product of Crude Oil, a mineral occurring naturally. When crude oil is processed at refineries, it can be separated into several different kinds of fuels, including gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene ( paraffin), grease, vaseline and diesel. A scientist called Rudolf Diesel contributed to the science of separating these fuels. Hence the name diesel. Diesel is heavier, corrosive, evaporates more slowly and has a higher boiling point than water. it is a popular product in that it has a higher energy density than gasoline (petrol).

Imagine, 1 gallon ( 3.8L) of diesel fuel contains about 155X10,000,000 joules. 1 gallon of gasoline contains 132X10,000,000 joules. Diesel engines get better mileage than equivalent gasoline engines.

Diesel engines are around us:  freight ship, vehicles, construction, generators, trucks, school buses, city buses, trains, cranes, farming equipments and emergency response vehicles. We rely on diesel to ship bulk goods.

Diesel emits very small amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. These emissions lead to global warming. From this observation, we see it does not contribute to global warming. However, it produces very high amounts of nitrogen compounds and matter in particle form for example soot and sulphur. These lead to acid rain, smog and health hazards. According to the office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment  (OEHHA) of California, exhaust from diesel engines contains substances that can pose a risk to human health. Diesel, is a complex mixture of thousands of gases and fine particles that contain over 40 toxic air contaminants some of which are suspected to cause cancer. These substances are:  nickel, benzene, arsenic, formaldehyde and harmful pollutants such as nitrogen.

People, animals, fish, birds and plants are exposed to toxic gases. It is more severe for organisms near or around objects that produce the exhaust. In humans, this particle pollution causes: emphysema, asthma, chronic heart and lung diseases, childhood illnesses and allergies.

So, we see that diesel is good in that it has been behind the development boom and increase in built infrastructure which is so central to our life. But, we have also seen the risky side of it to our life. What does this inform us?

Some suggestions to make life better:

1. Improve engines to reduce emissions.
2. Retrofitting  cars with particle-trapping filters.
3. Vigilance in tracking defaulters.
4. Use of alternative fuels ( propane, electricity, natural gas
5. Reduce idling time of engines.
6. Street cleaning.
7. Providing education to people about risk factors.
8. Putting up notices for the public as well as alerts.
9. Establishing Walking and cycling zones in cities or built urban areas
10. Pollution taxes/penalties.

1. California Air Resources Board ( ARB) 
2. Energy Information Administration 
4. OEHHA (
5. The American Lung Association of California ( ALAC)

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