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Particulate Matter by Fossil Fuel Air Pollution

In 2015, there were 7 issued air pollution warnings specifically attributed to particulate matter within the Twin Cities. 40% or 145 days had a moderate level category of particulate matter emissions, higher than any other place in Minnesota and over double the amount compared to next largest state area. For 2016, there has already been one issued air pollution warning on January 14 for particulate matter.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six principal pollutants, with particle pollution being one of them.

According to the EPA common issues associated with particle pollution are:

-Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems including: premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

It’s a well-known fact that gasoline, especially high octane gasoline, emits ultrafine particulate matter.  These particulates act as vectors for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carrying them into the soft body tissues and bloodstreams which larger particulates can’t reach.   A significant source of PAHs is the incomplete combustion of gasoline. These aromatics are made up of benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene and represent more than 20 percent of the volume of gasoline. These particles have been labeled cancer causing emissions from the EPA, and they are something to watch out for.

Recently a new study just came out from the National Institute Environmental Health Perspectives titled Particulate Matter Exposure and Preterm Birth: Estimates of U.S. Attributable Burden and Economic Costs. Now we find out that these particles are not just causing cancer, but preterm births. The study found that an estimated 3.32% of Preterm births nationally in 2010 could be attributed to particulate matter. The costs associated with these preterm births were estimated to be $4.33 billion.

This is along the same lines of MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine’s recent letter to the State Legislature stating, “In just the Twin Cities alone, the most recent research shows that air pollution linked to fossil fuel emissions are a leading contributor to approximately 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency-room visits every year. Air pollution also costs Minnesota more than $800 million a year, largely due to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.”

A pattern? Before fossil fuel emissions were just said to have a social cost associated with air pollution and it was hard to present evidence for something that we couldn’t prove, but we now have tangible numbers pointing to economic costs as well as emotional hardships that can be laid at gasoline’s front door.

So what can be done? EPA has acknowledged the lower resulting tailpipe emissions from E15(15% ethanol) and that ethanol is a clean burning fuel. Numerous studies support that increasing ethanol content in fuel, results in reduced particle emissions and its associating particulate matter (PM)

Back in 2014 we reported that, according to the EPA, particulate matter decreased 34 percent nationwide from 2000 to 2013, coinciding with the 2005 RFS implementation that triggered large scale increases in ethanol blends. We also highlighted Argonne National Laboratory’s GREET model, which reported total urban life cycle emissions of VOC, NOx and particulate matter in a vehicle using E10(10% ethanol) are lower than in a vehicle using gasoline which contains no ethanol.

More recently, according to the Ethanol Renewable Fuel Association, “Oxygen in the fuel has been shown to reduce primary exhaust particulate matter from cars.”

The study, Ethanol, isobutanol, and biohydrocarbons as gasoline components in relation to gaseous emissions and particulate matter stated, “Oxygenated fuels reduced PM emissions and associated priority PAH emissions in the direct-injection spark-ignition car.”

Another study, Assessing the impacts of ethanol and isobutanol on gaseous and particulate emissions from flexible fuel vehicles states that, “Particulate matter (PM) mass, number, and soot mass emissions showed strong reductions with increasing alcohol content in gasoline. Particulate emissions were found to be clearly influenced by certain fuel parameters including oxygen content, hydrogen content, and aromatics content.”

Yet another study, Impact of intermediate ethanol blends on particulate matter emission from a spark ignition direct injection (SIDI) engine, “Because ethanol contains an oxygen atom in each molecule, it has a significant influence on combustion performance and characteristics of vehicular discharge, including PM.”

Even MIT states that “For E0, however, the PM values are substantially higher, the total PM emission from E0 is more than 3 times that from E10. Thus there is a substantial change in PM emissions when the fuel is changed from E0 to E10.”

Enough evidence for you?

A reduction in these toxic evaporative emissions are possible with increased oxygenated ethanol content. Make the switch, lower your air pollution footprint, and fuel up with E15, allowed in all cars 2001 or newer, over 85% of the cars of the road!

Better yet, if you so desire, invest in a FFV (Flex Fuel Vehicle) which can handle ethanol blends of up to 85% ethanol (E85)

It’s time to get serious. Find out which stations in Minnesota sell ethanol blended fuels here, and let’s see if we can make a dent in those economic and emotional cost numbers for 2016.

Are you in?