The Health Effects of PM2.5
PM2.5 poses serious health concerns because it can pass through the nose and throat, lodge deeply in the lungs, and pass across the lungs into the cardiovascular system. Particles can aggravate lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis and increase respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. PM2.5 can aggravate heart conditions, including congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease.People of all ages face health risks from PM2.5 pollution, but some groups are more susceptible than others. Children are at high risk because they spend more time playing outdoors, their bodies are still developing, and they breathe more rapidly than adults, inhaling more air per pound of body weight. The elderly and those with acute or chronic respiratory problems are also at high risk. Even active adults who exercise outdoors face an increased risk from fine particulates because PM2.5 penetrates deeper into the parts of the lungs that are more vulnerable to injury.
Health Effects of Idling
- Ozone, created by chemical reactions between oxygen and nitrogen oxides, can cause inflammation in the lungs, decrease lung capacity and irritate bronchial passages.
- VOCs, which along with NO2 contribute to the formation of ozone, have the potential to cause cancer.
- Carbon monoxide interferes with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the brain, heart, and other tissues, causing headaches and fatigue.
- PM2.5 fine particulates are small enough to lodge deeply in the lungs, causing respiratory problems.
Children are at particular risk because they breathe more rapidly than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Children also spend a considerable amount of time outdoors during the summer and fall when ozone levels are typically higher. Exposure to these pollutants is associated with increased frequency of childhood illnesses and can contribute to the development of asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Many people do not realize that engines release more harmful emissions when idling than driving. Modern engines are designed to run most efficiently at higher temperatures. Because engines run at a lower temperature when idling, they do not fully combust fuel injected into the combustion chamber. This incomplete combustion releases chemically complex pollutants into the air.
Diesel exhaust is especially harmful. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regards these emissions as a major health risk to the public. Scientists have yet to identify a safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust. People who live in urban areas or near major roads and highways suffer a greater incidence of respiratory problems due to the higher concentrations of exhaust in these areas. Diesel emissions from idling school buses pose a danger to children and have been at the heart of idle reduction efforts throughout the country.
Surprisingly, exposure to most auto pollutants, including VOCs and CO, is much higher inside vehicles than outside. Drivers caught in traffic jams on highways, idling outside a school or sitting at drive-through inhale more toxic pollutants than people standing outside the car. Reducing unnecessary idling reduces exposure to these toxic pollutants and improves the respiratory health for sensitive populations and healthy individuals.