Choose Ethanol, Your Health Depends On It

By Dave VanderGriend, President Urban Air Initiative

Every day, each and every one of us breathes in harmful toxins from gasoline emissions that could eventually cause heart disease, cancer and issues for our children like asthma and even autism. What’s frustrating is a majority of these emissions can be avoided and our health improved with a simple change to the way gasoline is blended.

Right now toxic aromatic compounds such as benzene, toluene, and xylene (BETX) are added to gasoline to boost octane. Yet these toxins don’t fully combust and then escape into the atmosphere. These emissions come out of the tailpipe as tiny particulates, that are literally invisible, yet the consequences are well known.

They are so small that they can by-pass the lungs and directly enter the bloodstream causing cancers and neurological ailments. The larger particles that are trapped by the lungs are linked to a range of respiratory ailments like asthma and lung disease. In urban areas and anywhere near roadways, the impacts are startling. Whether it be spikes in low birth weights in Los Angeles or off-the chart asthma cases in Minneapolis, the patterns are consistent.

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology says benzene in traffic emissions is tied to childhood leukemia. A 2012 study out of the University of California ties the risk of autism to traffic pollution. And a 2015 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives links tiny particles in car exhaust to heart disease. This is just few of the studies and analyses that suggest we have a serious health threat right in front of us.

The obvious question is why?  Why are toxics, many of which the EPA defines as hazardous air pollutants in gasoline to begin with? Especially when high octane ethanol is available as a direct replacement for these dangerous aromatic chemicals? The answer lies with the oil industry and the EPA.

From the oil industry perspective, octane is the key value in gasoline and octane from toxic aromatics is the key to profits. Its impact on consumer health is of little concern. From the EPA side, the distorted prism it uses to see things says that dangerous particulates are primarily a diesel and power plant issue…despite the fact that gasoline represents the overwhelming majority of fuel used and source of emissions.

At the Urban Air Initiative we are ringing the alarm bell, and continue to build evidence and alliances so that the mounting body of health related evidence will become compelling enough for the EPA to act. The EPA not only has the authority to regulate Aromatic toxics but is required under the 1990 law to do so.

It’s time for the EPA to open its eyes to the problems posed by gasoline emissions and protect human health. Simply adding ethanol to gasoline will displace most toxic compounds, reducing tailpipe emissions and the risk to our health.

Urban Air recently sponsored a briefing in Washington, D.C. educating congressional staff members about we can protect public health through cleaner fuels like ethanol and lower emissions. We are also supporting initiatives like the Watertown E30 Challenge and Clean Fuels Omaha which educates consumers and puts the choice of clean air in their hands as they choose higher blends of ethanol.