As policymakers and public health experts dig deeper into the human costs of air pollution, including heightened risk from COVID-19 among vulnerable communities, a rapidly growing body of research is raising awareness of the threat posed by toxic fuel additives, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX).
These petroleum-based aromatic compounds play a dominant role in the formation of toxic emissions linked to cancer, as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and reproductive damage. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths globally are linked to air pollution, marking it as one of the world’s top killers.
A safer and cleane alternative: ethanol
Fortunately, people have a better option in ethanol, the single most affordable and abundant alternative to petroleum-based fuel additives that threaten air quality in communities across the globe. To fully appreciate ethanol’s value, it is important to recognise that all petroleum requires additives to boost octane and allow engines to run.
Motor fuels contain a variety of petrochemicals, each with their own characteristics and hazards. Currently, aromatic and carbon compounds make up 19.3% of the unleaded gasoline that comes out of the pump, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As a cleaner octane enhancer, ethanol can be used to displace a growing share of these BTEX fuel additives – a trade that offers savings in both emissions and cost.
Historically, ethanol’s advantage over petroleum has been characterised by it potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – 39% or more according to US Department of Agriculture data – but in terms of protecting human health, the near-term benefits to air quality are now taking centre stage. Clean energy leaders and health experts, including those at the American Lung Association, are all speaking out about the importance of alternative fuels like ethanol for protecting our respiratory health.
New research from experts like Dr Steffen Mueller at the University of Illinois Chicago, shows that cleaner biofuel blends can improve health outcomes and save lives.
Backed by science
Just last year, scientists at the Centre for Environmental Research and Technology at the University of California, Riverside, completed a landmark study on the toxic and particulate emissions of fuel blends. Supported by Growth Energy, the study confirmed the link between BTEX fuel additives in gasoline and higher emissions of aromatic chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen.
It also found that BTEX additives drive significant increases in particulate emissions, which cause asthma and contribute to heart and lung disease.
Armed with the latest data, Growth Energy and other clean air advocates are calling on the EPA to embrace solutions that are available now as part of its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (PM NAAQS).
Growth Energy is also standing shoulder to shoulder with other environmental champions who have rallied behind legislation to accelerate innovations in climate-friendly farming, jumpstart growth in advanced biofuels and drive the adoption of low-carbon transportation strategies.
We know these strategies can work. In fact, biofuels are responsible for nearly 80% of all the carbon reductions credited under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), with the recorded carbon intensity of ethanol declining nearly 33% since 2011. With an increasing emphasis on higher ethanol blends like E15, this can ensure the next generation of fuel standards will deliver benefits for both our climate and human health. At a time when the importance of respiratory health has never been clearer, it is an opportunity not to be passed up. l
This article was written by Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, a national trade association representing supporters and producers of ethanol. Visit: growthenergy.com
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