The Definition of Insanity Is…….

by Pam Miller- Siouxland Ethanol and Urban Air Initiative Supporter

I think we are all familiar with the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Well, sometimes I think that’s just what we are doing when we see study after study come out of reputable universities or medical institutions that conclude vehicle exhaust is killing us.

What did they expect? We keep using petroleum based fuels and we keep getting reports that people are dying from a range of ailments that are clearly linked to those fuels. We read the reports, shake our heads, and go back to putting that same gasoline in our cars. And we are not talking about itchy eyes or a runny nose from this pollution but actual mortality, premature deaths.

The most recent validation of what we know to be true is a study released last month out of Los Angeles. This study, conducted by researchers from New York University and the American Thoracic Society, was peer reviewed and supported by the Society’s membership of 15,000 health care professionals. Their conclusions should be startling–more than two thousand deaths in the LA Metro Area and nearby Riverside can be directly attributed to poor air quality, and specifically fine particles, harmful soot, and chemical-laden specks of pollution that can lodge deep in the lungs. In addition to avoidable deaths, the report concludes that thousands of heart attacks, emergency room visits, and other serious health issues –including a loss of work and productivity– could be avoided.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a California problem and blame it on the well chronicled traffic and population issues the state faces. But just a few months earlier, a near identical study about Boston traffic by Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health came to a nearly identical conclusions. The linkage to vehicle exhaust and the fuels creating that exhaust expose residents to microscopic chemicals that include known and suspected carcinogens.

Auto exhaust knows no boundaries and this is a health crisis that affects us all. It is a particularly debilitating issue on the young and the elderly.

However, there is good news in that we are finally getting the medical community to clearly make the connection between fuels and health.  A leading researcher on children’s health, Dr. Federica Perera, the Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health has publicly stated fossil fuel combustion and associated air pollution and CO2 emissions are the root cause of much of the ill health of children today. She went on to say that “the single most important action we can take for our children is to cure our addiction to fossil fuel.”

I could go on, citing study after study but the results would be the same and that would be……insane.  Instead, we in the ethanol industry need to remember our greatest strength, among our many, is the fact that we offer a clean, low carbon source of octane. Ethanol can replace the toxic compounds used to increase octane in gasoline which are directly related to the harmful emissions identified in these studies.

Working with the Urban Air Initiative in recent years, I have come to understand the true dangers of the fuel we are exposed to every day. The dreaded BTX compounds (benzene, toluene, and xylene) are classified as toxic aromatics and they are as scary as they sound. Their primary role is to provide octane but as we are seeing, it comes with a price.

Ethanol, however is a superior octane enhancer and is a healthier alternative to current practices. Like so many issues we face, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have a final say on the subject. It is charged with regulating fuel and has the ability to limit aromatics. It is up to us to create a sense of urgency for the EPA to do what needs to be done. These studies should be an ongoing wake up call for the EPA to open the market for cleaner fuels like higher ethanol blends.