Why EVs are better for your health
Charis Nathan Zero Carbon World's Summer Intern has delved into the world of personal transportation and its effect on health. Can driving electric can make you, and those around you, healthier?
There are obvious environmental advantages to electric vehicles, namely the elimination of pollution caused by running the actual vehicle. Even charging an EV with electricity produced from burning fossil fuels (without the use of solar panels) reduces carbon emission by 50%1.
EVs are indeed advantageous to the environment in this way, but we still need reminding of the health benefits they present to humans compared to a diesel or petrol run car.
First, we can acknowledge the lack of carbon monoxide that would otherwise be produced by normal cars – carbon monoxide poisoning decreases haemoglobin’s efficiency to pick up oxygen, thus making blood difficult to oxygenate2. It also oxidises in the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide2, another toxic gas in large quantities.
Other toxins released from normal engine car exhausts that have poisonous potential are particulates – these are oxides burned from a car engine, and contribute to asthma attacks by irritating the lungs and development of the disease2. This is also the case with un-burnt hydrocarbons, which escape the engine into the atmosphere. These additionally contribute to the formation of photochemical smog, which also causes respiratory problems2. Photochemical smog is produced by the sun’s rays acting on certain pollutants from petrol engines, and irritates the eyes, nose, and lungs2.
Although there is no evidence to suggest that air pollution will turn non-asthmatic patients into asthmatic ones, air pollution episodes are widely known to cause exacerbations of asthma, especially with severe cases of asthma, in both summer and winter periods4.
Air pollution’s relationship with lung cancer isn’t as strong as smoking, but it does, however, increase the risk of obtaining the disease3. There is a correlation between the use of fossil fuels decreasing, and a fall in lung cancer incidences3. Increased risk of lung cancer is caused by exposure to nitrogen oxides and particularly traffic fumes3, which obviously would otherwise not be present with EV vehicles.
Because the nature of an electric engine does not produce pollutants that would otherwise be produced by a normal engine, (CO2, CO, particulates, unburned hydrocarbons, etc), it can be concluded that the health risks listed above would not be as apparent if everyone switched to EVs.
2: Chemical Stroylines, Salters Advanced Chemistry, Heinemann 2008
3: Lung Cancer – The Facts, Stephen Falk and Chris Williams, Oxford 2010
4: British Medical Association – Family Doctor Guide to Asthma, Prof. John Ayres, DK 1999