Health Impacts of Diesel Exhaust

The NRDE Program exists to improve the health of people in Metro Vancouver.

Diesel engines emit a complex mixture of air pollutants. The visible emissions are known as particulate matter (PM) and sometimes called, "diesel soot". Diesel exhaust gases contain particles of carbon coated with other chemicals. These include known, cancer-causing chemicals. When inhaled, the smallest particles can become embedded in the lungs or pass directly into the blood stream.  

Diesel PM is linked to premature death and a number of heart and lung diseases. Diesel PM emissions are responsible for 67% of the lifetime cancer risk from air pollution in Metro Vancouver. Non-road diesel engines are responsible for approximately 41% of diesel PM emissions. Exposure to diesel PM is a health hazard - particularly to children, the elderly, and those working around diesel exhaust. Diesel exhaust is classified as a, "known or probable human carcinogen," by the World Health Organization and US Environmental Protection Agency.

Diesel PM is linked to many other serious heart and lung diseases including:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Cancers
  • Heart attacks
  • Arrhythmia

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of a group of gases known as nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are produced during high-temperature fuel combustion. On hot and sunny days, NOx can react with volatile organic compounds (VOC) to form harmful ground-level ozone. NOx can also react with other air contaminants to form fine particulate matter (PM2.5), a priority air contaminant in the region. NO2 has direct respiratory effects and contributes to early mortality, particularly for the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions. There is no known safe level for NO2, as noted in the 2017 Health Canada study “Health impacts of air pollution in Canada: an estimate of premature mortalities”.

In addition to negative health impacts, NO2 can damage ecosystems through acid rain and eutrophication (when bodies of water become overly enriched with nutrients). The formation of secondary fine particulate (PM2.5) involving NOx can impair visual air quality and result in economic losses for tourism and recreational activities.




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Non-road Diesel Emissions Regulations - Oct 2012Non-road Diesel Emissions Regulations - Oct 2012219987284

Related Links


  • For more information on Non-Road Diesel Engine emission regulation