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U.S. push for diesel poses risk to public health, scientists say

Diesel fuel is now at the center of a delicate balancing act between smog production and global warming. Some lawmakers and car manufacturers advocate widespread diesel use in passenger vehicles as a strategy for reducing the production of so-called ''greenhouse gases'' thought to cause global warming. But according to a new study, replacing gasoline vehicles in the United States with diesel vehicles - equipped even with the most modern pollution controls - may increase smog production over most of the country.

''If provisions in last year's United States energy bill pass this year, many diesel vehicles will qualify for the same tax credits as hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,'' said Mark Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and lead author of the study published January 30 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. He added, ''It is a surprise to me that this proposal was made before its possible effect on public health was evaluated.''

The main component of smog is ozone. In the upper atmosphere it absorbs intense cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation from the sun and prevents it from reaching Earth. In the lower atmosphere where we breathe, however, ozone is a respiratory irritant associated with decreases in lung function and increases in hospital visits for respiratory causes. Children, the elderly and individuals with preexisting respiratory disease have increased sensitivity to ozone exposure.

Ozone is formed in the lower atmosphere through sunlight-initiated chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons - compounds found in vehicle exhaust. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated ozone and nitrogen dioxide, along with four other air pollutants, as ''criteria pollutants'' for setting concentration standards for the protection of public health and the environment.

Compared to gasoline-fueled vehicles, diesel-fueled vehicles emit more nitrogen oxides and
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Contact: Dawn Levy
dawnlevy@stanford.edu
650-725-1944
Stanford University
9-Feb-2004


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