The Sad Truth behind Vehicle Emissions


With the crazy heat wave that we are experiencing in Colombo right now, many people actually like roaming about in their vehicles, especially if the air conditioner is in working condition. Even if some of us don’t have that luxury all the time, the convenience that a vehicle offers just can’t be beaten.

While I was stuck in traffic behind a beat-up old van spewing forth black fumes like a volcano about to explode, I was reminded of how little attention we pay to the long term repercussions of the pollutants released to the environment by automobiles, which are very detrimental to our health and the environment.

The effect on humans

Emissions cause a phenomenon called photochemical smog, which looks bad and acts nasty. Vehicle emissions contain Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can react to form ground level ozone and other secondary pollutants in the presence of sunlight and warm temperatures (A recipe for disaster in tropical countries).

Low concentrations of ground-level ozone can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Higher concentrations can lead to asthma, bronchitis, premature aging of lungs and respiratory failures among other diseases. China’s Environment Ministry has stated in Feb 2015, that the air quality in 66 of China’s 74 major cities, including the capital Beijing, failed to meet basic standards last year. This coming from the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter is a problem indeed. Smog hasn’t become a major issue in Sri Lanka yet, but it could well become one at the rate cars are being added onto the road every day.

Children, the elderly and those who are already victims of respiratory diseases are especially vulnerable to the ground level ozone and particulate matter in emissions. With a rise in the concentrations of particulate and gaseous pollutants, mortality and hospital admissions for myocardial infarction, congestive cardiac failure and cardiac arrhythmia increase. Vehicle emissions also release carcinogens into the atmosphere.  Diesel contains benzene, formaldehyde, and 1,3-butadiene—all three are well recognized carcinogens.

The effect on the environment

Almost everyone knows that there is a direct link between vehicle emissions, the rise in the CO2 level in the atmosphere and global warming. Some outcomes of global warming, such as record high temperatures, extreme flooding and droughts, and rising sea levels, are becoming increasingly common. In the U.S. alone, the transportation sector alone produces 30% of the country’s global warming emissions. Since the world is now looking at newer and more energy intensive ways of tapping dwindling fossil fuel resources, the burning of these fuels will only become dirtier.

Nitrogen oxides and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) contribute to destroy stratospheric ozone, crippling our planet’s ability to filter harmful UV rays. Acid rains cause property damage and adverse health effects, and affects flora and fauna by changing pH levels of ecosystems. Particulate matter reduces atmospheric visibility. Ground level ozone can damage plants and crops, as well as man-made products.

What can we do?

End Automobile Addiction! There’s nothing wrong with using public transportation for your daily commute, or you can even carpool with your friends or colleagues to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Another great way to stay healthy and reduce emissions is to cycle wherever you go. Idling engines are culprits as well. Don’t keep your engine running while you wait for something, it’s a significant saving. Idling for more than 10 seconds can contribute to local air pollution.

We all want to pretend that we’re in Furious 7 when we drive on the road, but driving slow means you’re a greener driver, and isn’t that better than being a Vin Diesel wannabe? Don’t overfill your gas tank, and use radial tires to cut down on tire drag and save gas. Switching to vehicles that run on cleaner fuels, such as electricity, methanol and natural gas is the best option in the long run, and you get kudos for setting the trend among your peer group too!