Diesel health risks: the details

  • Are diesel fumes bad for your health?
  • We look at what comes out of the exhausts of diesel cars
  • Should you be worried about diesel emissions?

Harmful emissions coming from diesel cars and the associated health problems are becoming a more prevalent issue not only in the UK, but worldwide.

Is it because of the VW emissions scandal?

Issues such as the Dieselgate scandal have raised awareness of what’s coming out of the exhausts of all kinds of vehicles on the road – just look at the new T-Charge coming into force in London as one example.

While CO2 emissions have significantly reduced in diesel cars in recent years, the focus on diesels has started to centre on NOx levels.

This is a combination of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide released from a vehicle’s exhaust after the combustion process, which could affect public health by contributing to high pollution levels, especially in cities.

What are diesel health risks?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared in 2012 that there was sufficient evidence to suggest exposure to diesel fumes coming from a car’s exhaust could cause lung cancer.

As such, diesel fumes are now classified as carcinogenic by the WHO – they were previously classed as ‘probably carcinogenic’.

The research revolved around workers who experienced high exposure to diesel fumes over a short period of time, which is not representative of all of the population. However, over a longer period of time, the effects of high exposure are expected to be similar.

What’s being done about it?

The new ‘T-Charge’ in London is charging older diesel vehicles that don’t comply with the latest emissions standards to drive into the centre of the capital (you can read more about that here).

There is also ongoing talk of introducing a diesel scrappage scheme, which would see older diesel car owners receive incentives to trade their car in for a more efficient and less-polluting model. This is yet to be confirmed at the time of writing.

Some diesels are now fitted with AdBlue technology, which aims to reduce the harmful emissions coming out of a car’s exhaust pipe by breaking down harmful nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen and oxygen as separate elements.

Should you be worried?

You’ll need to be exposed to diesel fumes for a prolonged period of time for any serious harm to be caused. Your car isn’t going to do that if you drive a diesel model.

Modern diesel cars are also fitted with advanced technology to reduce the number of harmful pollutants coming out of the exhaust pipes, such as AdBlue.

We expect more will be done to improve the reputation of diesel cars and reduce the amount of NOx being produced, but also there’s a rapidly growing focus on electric cars and plug-in hybrids, all of which we’ll report on as and when it happens.

Diesel vs petrol

If you're in two minds about whether you should go for a petrol or diesel car for your next purchase, take a look at our petrol vs diesel content to help you choose your next car.