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Vehicle Exhaust Pollution

In large cities across the country, ozone and nitrous oxides from vehicle emissions rise to the top of air quality concerns and take their place with the general particulate matter category. Vehicle exhaust is full of extremely tiny toxic particles. During poor venting days, especially in the summer, you can see this pollution as a dense brown haze. Forty percent of the PM in that haze is from vehicles.

In Port Alberni, as in many communities, emissions from trucks and cars are the largest contributor, by far, to toxic nitrous oxide pollution. They are also significant contributors to hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, 1,3 butadiene, and diesel particulate matter.

Exhaust is a complex cocktail of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To make matter worse, when it's warm and sunny, the NOx and VOCs react chemically making ground level ozone, yet another damaging toxin.

For a description and health effects of these contaminants go to:

CRITERIA AIR POLLUTANT DESCRIPTIONS Some developments that have reduced vehicle emissions include newer technologies (like the Smart Car), more efficient internal combustion engines, and cleaner fuels.

However, the best way to reduce vehicle emissions is to reduce vehicle use as much as possible. At least, when vehicles are in use, reducing unnecessary idling is beneficial for air quality.

Idling Gets You Nowhere

Canadians idle their vehicles for an average of five to ten minutes a day. In the peak of winter the combined total is more that 75 million minutes a day - equivalent to one vehicle idling for 144 years.

How could one person's decision to stop unnecessary idling have any effect? If every Canadian motorist avoided idling for just five minutes a day, 365 days of the year, more than 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide and other toxic substances would be spared from entering the atmosphere.

Idling for more than 10 seconds costs more than turning off your engine. More than $1.8 million of fuel is idled away by Canadians every day. Running an engine at low speed also generates costs due to the doubling of wear on internal parts. This wear can reduce engine life by up to 20%.

Most idling is simply habit based on myth. There's no other way to explain why truck drivers would leave their rigs idling next to Alberni Elementary while they chow down in Tim Horton's.I kid you not.

Contrary to popular opinion, idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle. With today's modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on cold winter days before driving. Contrary to popular opinion, idling is not good for your engine. It can actually damage engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems. Contrary to popular opinion, frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor and does not use more gas than leaving the engine running.

Idling gets you nowhere. It wastes fuel, money, and engine life while reducing air quality and contributing to climate change. The solution is literally in your hands - it's as easy as turning a key.

City Maintenance worker installs permanent Idle Free Zone signs around the Alberni Elementary School.

Idle Free Elementary



Proximity to Highways

In 2006, the Ministry of Environment published a set of "Environmental Best Management Practices for Urban and Rural Land Development in B.C.", where it states,

"According to a growing body of scientific literature, people living near freeways and major roads (roadways) have a higher risk of developing (or worsening) health problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia and heart disease. Exposure to this pollution has been found to hamper children's ability to learn. Motor vehicles emit at least 40 different air pollutants, usually concentrated within 150 meters (500 feet) of freeways and busy roadways. The research points to the need for increased awareness of the public health concerns associated with roadway proximity in creating land-use policy and environmental/air quality management programs."

Proximity to Highways

Our urban and rural design, land development, and policy planning should be founded on best management practices. Those practices include protecting hospitals, schools, long term care facilities, and residences from busy road pollution. Building setbacks of a least 150 metres are recommended. The setbacks required are even greater for truck routes, as elevated pollutant concentrations are measurable as far as 750 metres from either side of them. Best practices avoid development entirely on truck routes.

The ideal placement for heavy industrial traffic is as far away from people and where they live as possible.

Deadly Diesel Exhaust

Diesel engines emit 100 times more particles than normal gas engines of corresponding performance. Diesel exhaust particulate (DEP) is characterized by ultra fines (.1ug or less in diameter). These extremely tiny carbon atoms act like magnets to which 18,000 other compounds may stick. DEP size and affiliation with hazardous and carcinogenic pollutants wreaks havoc in human tissues. In the United States, it is estimated that between 70 and 89 percent of the total cancer burden due to air pollution is caused by DEP. In Canada it is estimated that as many as 13,600 Canadians will develop cancer over their lifetime from diesel exhaust.

For more information on the toxicity of diesel:


Related Links:

How Vehicle Emissions Affect Us

- Transportation Emissions
- Vehicle Emissions in B.C. - Statistics
- How Vehicle Emissions Affect Us
- Vehicle Emissions-Reduction Strategies
- What You Can Do to Reduce Vehicle Emissions
Emissions from Different Modes of Transportation