Diesel Particulate

Adverse health effects have been associated with diesel particulate matter, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The causal mechanisms are unclear, but recent theories point at ultrafine particles because of their high lung-penetration efficiency and significant surface area—and to the presence of toxic metals on particles.

Diesel-powered vehicles are gaining in popularity as carmakers continue to make advances in clean diesel technology. Diesels are predicted to compete with hybrids as the preferred fuel efficient and clean car alternative. But just as American consumers begin to cast aside diesel’s dirty stigma, medical researchers from the United Kingdom and Sweden have found serious adverse health risks attributed to diesel exhaust.

In a study presented to the American Heart Association in early November, 2007, researchers reported that exhaust from diesel fuel increased clot formation and blood platelet activity in healthy volunteers—both of which are associated with higher risks of heart attack and stroke. The test group consisted of 20 men, age 21 to 44 years old, who were exposed to diesel exhaust levels comparable to what you would find at curbside on a busy street. After the exposure, researchers measured various blood levels and occurrences within each volunteer. These tests revealed increases in clot formation and platelet activation, significantly enough to be considered conclusive.

“Shortly after exposure to traffic air pollution, individuals are more likely to suffer a heart attack,” said Dr. Andrew Lucking, the lead author of study. “When a person is exposed to relatively high levels of diesel exhaust for a short time, the blood is more likely to clot.” It’s not clear whether these findings would apply to exhaust from conventional gasoline. Diesel engines generate many times more fine pollutant particles than comparable-sized gasoline engines.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation. Further ancillary studies on this topic have been planned in collaboration with the University of Umea, Sweden.

An abstract of the study is available from the American heart Association.