April 19th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Iraq: winning the peace

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Foreign debt binge threatens economy

Ethanol a solution to air pollution caused lung cancers

Wider focus needed on Murray Darling water controversy

ENVIRONMENT: Federal bushfire inquiry's challenge

TRADE: Safeguarding our $800m wheat contracts

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Why shouldn't everyone have the bomb? / Strategic history / North Korean blackmail

MEDIA: Journalism becomes a commodity

LETTERS: Nationals misrepresented (letter)

BOOKS: Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz

EDUCATION: Iraq: the view in the classroom

DRUGS: United Nations body slams Sydney injecting room

BOOKS: The Marriage Problem: How our Culture has Weakened Families, by James Q. Wilson

BOOKS: Tolkien's Christianity: J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth, by Bradley J. Birzer

FILM REVIEW: Ned Kelly (2003)

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Ethanol a solution to air pollution caused lung cancers

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, April 19, 2003
Health issues are likely to drive governments to seriously consider mandating ethanol for motor vehicles, saving substantially on the health budget and providing an enormous boost to the sugar cane industry. Pat Byrne reports.

city lung
healthy lung
Up to one fifth of all lung cancer deaths are caused by air pollution, tiny airborne particles emitted largely from motor vehicle exhausts. These findings were released recently in a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study was the biggest ever conducted into air pollution. It traced half-a-million Americans for 16 years and found that the impact of air pollution on health is larger than feared.

New Scientist magazine cited British expert Roy Harrison of the University of Birmingham saying the study was important because it followed individuals, allowing the researchers to separate the effects of smoking and pollution.

According to New Scientist:

"The research focused on particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5s. These fine particles are thought to kill by lodging deep in the lungs. The researchers found that the long-term death rate from lung cancer rose by eight per cent for every 10-microgram increase in the average concentration of PM2.5s per cubic metre. The increased risk is comparable with the risks to long-term passive smokers."

The above photographs of two human lungs from non-smokers are provided by Sydney pathologists who describe them as representative of a typical country person and a typical Sydney resident exposed to the much higher pollution levels of Sydney.

Associate Professor Ray Kearney, from the Sydney University, is an expert on infectious diseases and an advocate for groups concerned about the health effects of motor vehicle emissions. Professor Kearney says that the effects of air pollution are more dramatic than even lung pathologies reveal. The lung traps larger air pollution particles, visibly affecting the lung. However, ultra fine particles pass through the lung walls and into the blood stream.

The US based Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility recently reviewed 129 medical studies that focused on air pollution from power plants, which emit similar pollutants to motor vehicles.

The report said:

"The recent medical literature concerning air pollution is more convincing than ever, indicating that ozone and particulate air pollutants cause serious health effects to the general public.

"Air pollution causes increased chest symptoms, days lost from school and work due to chest illness, asthma attacks, increases in emergency room and hospital admissions, and increased mortality rates.

"The association between ozone and many adverse health effects is certainly causal, and the association with excess mortality is certainly robust and may well be causal.

"The causal nature of the association between particulate air pollution and adverse health effects and higher mortality rates appears to be firmly established according to the National Institutes of Health.

"The effect of particulate on mortality does not seem to have a safe threshold. The value of the health benefits nationally of lower particulate air pollution levels is estimated at US$32 billion, and the benefit to public health of reduced power plant emissions seems well worth the cost ...

"The results of the recent health effects research are overwhelming. The new data describe a coherent picture of serious adverse health effects due to air pollution."

Ethanol has an important role to play in reducing car pollution. It is produced efficiently from a variety of organic materials, particularly from sugar cane. It is an environmentally friendly product, a renewable fuel that replaces other fuel additives.

Currently used fuel additives make fuel burn with greater energy output, but they are also harmful to human health.

In contrast, ethanol adds oxygen to the fuel burn making petrol and diesel burn more efficiently and cleaner, with reduced particle emissions, especially fine particle emissions, and substantially reduced carbon dioxide and harmful carbon monoxide emissions.

Generally, for each 10 per cent ethanol added to fuel particle emissions reduce by 10 per cent. If ethanol were mandated for fuel, replacing other harmful additives, it would have major health benefits for the community and savings on health budgets.

So why have the petroleum and motor vehicle companies run a media campaign against ethanol claiming it damages some engines?

Their campaign has come at the same time as the Federal government has been considering mandating ethanol in fuel. Clearly, if the government mandated say 10 per cent ethanol in fuel it would mean the oil companies would lose 10 per cent of the fuel market to ethanol producers.

Yet in the US, the same car companies are recommending ethanol for many of their vehicles. Two papers citing 22 car companies and 12 small engine producers recommending ethanol for their engines can be found at http://www.iowacorn.org/ethanol/ethanol_3c.html.

In Brazil cars run on up to 85 per cent ethanol, and some of these cars are produced in Australia.

Car companies accept that up to 10 per cent ethanol in fuel requires no engine modifications, while over 10 per cent requires engine timing and minor component changes.

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