The Toxic Substances Emitted by Diesel

The stunt pulled off by Volkswagen, equipping its diesel vehicles with a defeat device, a computer software that is capable of automatically altering its vehicle’s engine operation and speed if it is being tested, was definitely a bold move. However, cheating its way into US market by making it appear that its cars produced clean diesel was a clear breach of public trust and an endangerment of public health, according to the US Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Cars that run on diesel may be the future of vehicles driven on American roads and highways; for the meantime, however, this is not an immediately foreseeable possibility due to the greater human health and environmental hazards produced by diesel.

While cars running on diesel engine abound in Europe, in the US these only made up about 3.2% of the total auto sales in the year 2012. This is because though diesel is 20% to 40% more efficient than gasoline, it is known to produce particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) which are more toxic than carbon dioxide, the global-warming gas emitted by gasoline-run engines.

The question that may pop up here is how is it that cars and trucks that use diesel, despite the threat of nitrogen oxide, are allowed to continue running on US roads and highways whereas cars produced by Volkswagen, which number close to half a million, have to be recalled? The answer, according to the US Department of Energy, is the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel which greatly reduces the stinky, sooty substance that diesel usually emits; of course, there is also the fact that carmakers have found a very effective means of trapping the type of air pollution emitted by diesel. Volkswagen, it seems is not aware of these, otherwise, it would have resorted to any of these two rather than resort to cheating – by equipping its diesel cars with a defeat device designed to reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides during testing. Outside a controlled environment, however, Volkswagen diesel cars are said to be emitting pollutants that are 10% to 40% higher than the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency-enforced Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen diesel cars can definitely assure fuel economy and more mileage; but one other thing it has also assured is the buildup of rage among car owners and environmentalists. A Volkswagen emissions fraud lawyer may be able to explain to owners of cars who have been wronged by Volkswagen’s act of consumer fraud, how they may be able to hold the company accountable for the betrayal of their trust.

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Health Effects of PCBs

Studies show that polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs are definitely pollutants, and they are definitely toxic. Various lab animals exposed to varying levels of PCBs demonstrated adverse health effects, which were fatal at high doses. There are no conclusive study on humans as of yet, but it would be safe to infer that PCB exposure will also have deleterious, possibly carcinogenic, effects.

PCBs are synthetic organic compounds of chlorine and benzene concocted by German scientists in 1881. It served as a coolant for machines and insulation for electrical components. Swann Chemical Company first produced the PCBs in North America in 1929. Monsanto PCBs came into being when Monsanto Company took over production from Swann in 1935, and began selling PCBs under the brand Aroclor in the US. PCBs are persistent in nature, and released in the environment through use and manufacture.

There are 209 types of PCBs and they have various levels of toxicity, apparently dependent on how many chlorine atoms attach to the two benzene rings (biphenyls) in a PCB molecule. The more chlorine atoms, the less soluble it is in water. There are 7 PCB types that were widely used in North America until 1979, when the US Congress halted the production of PCBs.

The issues with PCBs are due mainly to its similarity in structure and toxic modality to dioxins, which are persistent organic pollutants. They get into everything: the soil, the water, and the air. They are very hard to get rid of, and so the risk of exposure is very high. Dioxins and PCBs are absorbed into the fatty tissue of animals, including humans, and affect vital organs.

PCBs are excellent for industrial applications, because they are very stable and resistant to degradation. However, this also makes them very dangerous to humans and the environment in general. Direct exposure is not necessary: a husband can bring it home on his clothes and affect his wife and children; a previously exposed mother can pass the PCBs in her body on to a breastfeeding infant. While there is no definite proof yet that PCBs are harmful to humans, scientists believe that it is only a matter of time before the first toxic exposure victims step forward.

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