Harmful Gasoline Emissions Threat to Public Health

Air quality is one of those things that is all too easy to take for granted. After all, if you can’t see the toxins in the air you breathe, they may as well not exist. 

But what if there is research illustrating that some of these toxins — specifically ultrafine toxic particulates that often come from additives in gasoline — are not only a known danger to our public health, but that there is a solution to this problem that has been intentionally ignored by influential leaders in the public and private sector for decades?

The reality is this: Recent reports show worsening air quality in the U.S. can be attributed to hundreds of millions of gasoline vehicles on American roadways emitting significantly more harmful emissions than being reported. Emissions from unnecessarily high aromatic levels in gasoline have been linked to pre-term births, cancer, IQ loss, neurological disorders, and a multitude of respiratory diseases. In fact, a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimated 50,000 premature deaths are caused each year from transportation fuels, and gasoline—which powers more than 250 million cars in the U.S. —is proving to be the most significant contributing factor.

Here is what is most alarming: While there are dozens of reputable and peer-reviewed studies confirming that ultrafine toxic particulates are one of the most serious public health threats in urban areas, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we know. That’s why Farmers Union Enterprises recently released the Gasolinegate Report and specifically asked Congress for an investigation into why the Environmental Protection Agency is ignoring toxics in gasoline while delaying real-world fuel and emission testing. Having just completed our Fact Book on Mobile Source Air Toxics: What’s in Our Gasoline is Killing Us, we know the problem is getting worse, not better.

The Gasolinegate Report illustrates how that is possible as it chronicles the impact of three decades of flawed testing and emission calculations. It also aims to help Congress determine why the EPA has refused to update a critical cost benefit analysis to reduce toxics for the past 13 years and continues to side step a clear path to reducing toxics in gasoline to the “greatest extent possible” as required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This data could be critical to congressional oversight as the EPA is in the process of finalizing several new rules that will impact gasoline quality, vehicle efficiency, toxic emissions, greenhouse gases and the development of alternative fuels for decades.

It’s also why FUE launched the Safe Gasoline Public Education and Consumer Awareness Campaign, which aims to educate consumers on this highly important, yet complex issue. 

Again, a solution exists. We believe a simple and technologically achievable increase in the octane standard will allow conventional cars to increase mileage by as much as 5 percent and reduce greenhouse gases by 7 percent. The result would be cleaner, safer fuel at a lower cost that all cars, but more importantly all Americans, can benefit from.    

The time is now. Let’s stop taking the air we breathe for granted. 


Doug Durante is the executive director and Washington representative of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, a nonprofit and membership organization that supports programs and policies that expand the market for ethanol and other biofuels.

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