How our cars cause asthma

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has done an amazingly detailed study of how our driving habits relate to the surging asthma problem in America.

You can go to the EWG Website and type in your metropolitan area (U.S. only) and the car you drive, and find out how much your car is causing asthma.

But are asthma and automotive pollution related?

Here’s a compelling example that shows that they are related.

During the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, the city cracked down on traffic, fearing gridlock. It worked — traffic went down more than 22% during the Games. But, surprisingly, asthma problems dropped at exactly the same time. The number of asthmatics who saw a doctor dropped by 40 percent, the number admitted to a hospital dropped 19 percent, and emergency room visits dropped 11 percent.

The EWG study used the California state government’s Smog Check records from 1985-2000, analyzed and compiled the information and used it to produce their ratings. This is a Website meant to shock. They measure the emission problems of each vehicle as a “number of inhalers.” This is a reference to the inhalers used by children to help with their asthma attacks. The worse it pollutes, the more inhalers it deserves.

The results, vehicle by vehicle, are often surprising. As you’d expect, larger cars and trucks pollute more. The Chevrolet Suburban, Hummer H2 and BMW X5 are among the biggest offenders in their class. But even some small cars cause emission problems. Comparing apples-to-apples, the worst small car is the Subaru Impreza, which creates 16 times more pollution than the cleanest small car, which is, predictably, the Honda Civic Hybrid. The Honda Insight (a hybrid) doesn’t get off easy either. It creates 9 times more pollution than the Civic Hybrid. Is that possible?

I also noticed that the Volkswagen Jetta (not a hybrid) rates just as highly as the Civic Hybrid (1 inhaler), but Volkswagen’s New Beetle doesn’t do well at all (6 inhalers).
The EWG notes that these results differ greatly from EPA ratings, but they feel their data is based on enough evidence (2.5 million Smog Check records) to be valid. The results I’m quoting are for my metropolitan area (Columbus, Ohio) but it seems that results are very similar from one metro area to another.

Please notice that the ratings (number of inhalers) are based on the best car in each class, so you can’t compare between classes. For instance, the best SUV has a rating of only 1 inhaler, as does the best small car. But those ratings are not at all equal.

I think the EWG system is a good way to rate automobile pollution. A person who needs a station wagon or midsize car for a large family isn’t really interested in a tiny car, no matter how little it pollutes. Try it for yourself!

Check your city.

Check your vehicle.

Consider what your choices are for helping to fix our pollution, and related asthma, problems.

Oh, and by the way, how does my vehicle rate? Very, very poorly. My 1995 Dodge Dakota apparently uses some outdated technology which causes it to pollute the environment 31 times more than the cleanest truck available. 10 inhalers. Ouch! So much for being high and mighty. It’s time to replace that old war-horse anyway. Maybe a nice Lexus RX400h with a sweet global navigation system??

Author by Daryl Kulak