Anenberg and Henze’s Nature Article on Health Impacts of diesel NOx emissions featured internationally

Heavy-duty vehicles, such as commercial trucks and buses, were found to be, by far, the largest contributor of emissions, accounting for 76 percent of the total excess nitrogen oxide emissions. Photo from the Climate & Clean Air Coalition article


Susan Anenberg and Daven Henze’s Nature article on the health impacts of diesel NOx emissions has been getting very wide, international coverage. From The Guardian, ABC News, Science Daily and Climate and Clean Air Coalition to New China and, in Danish, from Videnskab dk. Click on the icons to read the articles.



Because of testing inefficiencies, maintenance inadequacies and other factors, cars, trucks and buses worldwide emit 4.6 million tons more harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) than standards allow, according to a new study co-authored by University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

The study, published in Nature, shows these excess emissions alone lead to 38,000 premature deaths annually worldwide, including 1,100 deaths in the United States.

The findings reveal major inconsistencies between what vehicles emit during testing and what they emit in the real world — a problem that’s far more severe, said the researchers, than the incident in 2015, when federal regulators discovered Volkswagen had been fitting millions of new diesel cars with “defeat devices.”

The devices sense when a vehicle is undergoing testing and reduce emissions to comply with government standards. Excess emissions from defeat devices have been linked to about 50 to 100 U.S. deaths per year, studies show.

“A lot of attention has been paid to defeat devices, but our work emphasizes the existence of a much larger problem,” said Daven Henze, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at University of Colorado at Boulder who, along with postdoctoral researcher Forrest Lacey, contributed to the study. “It shows that in addition to tightening emissions standards, we need to be attaining the standards that already exist in real-world driving conditions.”

The research was conducted in partnership with the International Council on Clean Transportation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, and Environmental Health Analytics LLC.

For the paper, the researchers assessed 30 studies of vehicle emissions under real-world driving conditions in 11 major vehicle markets representing 80 percent of new diesel vehicle sales in 2015. Those markets include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

They found that in 2015, diesel vehicles emitted 13.1 million tons of NOx, a chemical precursor to particulate matter and ozone. Exposure in humans can lead to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other health problems. Had the emissions met standards, the vehicles would have emitted closer to 8.6 million tons of NOx.

Heavy-duty vehicles, such as commercial trucks and buses, were by far the largest contributor worldwide, accounting for 76 percent of the total excess NOx emissions.

Henze used computer modeling and NASA satellite data to simulate how particulate matter and ozone levels are, and will be, impacted by excess NOx levels in specific locations. The team then computed the impacts on health, crops and climate.

“The consequences of excess diesel NOx emissions for public health are striking,” said Susan Anenberg, co-lead author of the study and co-founder of Environmental Health Analytics LLC.

This post is an excerpt from an online Science Daily news article from May 15, 2017: “Diesels pollute more than lab tests detect. Excess emissions kill 38,000 annually, study shows

photo from the ABC News article

Anenberg, Henze, and the authors of the Nature paper on diesel NOx emissions recently gave a webinar on their findings, which was recorded and posted to YouTube. Check out the full webinar here.