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Deaths by Dirty Diesel Map

New CATF tool maps the staggering U.S. health and economic damages caused by diesel emissions

January 20, 2022 Work Area: Zero-Carbon Fuels

new interactive tool from Clean Air Task Force (CATF) maps the staggering damage that diesel emissions from the transportation sector inflict on U.S. communities, charting the more than 8,800 deaths, 3,700 heart attacks, hundreds of thousands of respiratory illnesses, and approximately $100 billion in monetized health damages per year across the U.S., according to EPA data.

“Diesel emissions from the transportation sector are wreaking havoc on air quality in many U.S. communities,” said Jonathan Lewis, Director of Transportation Decarbonization at CATF. “We hope this map will help people living and working in the most affected towns and cities quantify and articulate the enormous damage that diesel pollution causes in their communities. This information can help them push local and state leaders in government and business to develop better community planning processes, make smarter and more sustainable investments in roadways and fleet vehicles, and provide better access to preventative and responsive health care.”

The tool, Deaths by Dirty Diesel, allows users to find annual damages from diesel pollution on a national, state, metro-area, and county level for the 48 contiguous states in the continental U.S.

Key findings include: 

  • On the state level, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois suffer from the highest number of deaths from diesel pollution per capita, in that order. 
  • On a metro-area level, four of the top five metro areas and six of the top ten metro areas for deaths per capita are in California, including the Stockton-Lodi, Los Angeles, Modesto, and San Francisco, and Fresno metro areas.
  • California, New Jersey, and New York have the highest cancer risk from diesel pollution, though risk is not evenly spread across any state. Wyoming, Montana, and Oregon have the lowest cancer risk associated with diesel pollution.

Diesel trucks and other diesel-fueled equipment contribute significantly to particulate matter air pollution. This air pollution often occurs in industrial or urban hubs and causes health disparities that further inequitable harms on historically marginalized communities.

Lewis continued: “Eliminating these emissions—and the deaths and illness they are causing—requires a combination of policy and technology advances. There are steps that we can take, both in government and industry, that can push dirty diesel-burning engines out of the marketplace and out of our neighborhoods within a decade.”

CATF recommends the following measures to reduce diesel emissions across the U.S.:  

  • A federal Zero Carbon Fuel Standard that limits the carbon intensity of energy carriers sold into the transportation market and steadily builds demand for emissions-free clean electricity and zero-carbon fuels;
  • Government- and corporate-funded investments in propulsion technologies that can displace diesel engines, including battery-electric drivetrains for some vehicles and hydrogen-powered fuel cells for others;
  • Federal funding programs—like one in the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—that help cover the cost of replacing diesel engines with emissions-free technologies;
  • A robust implementation of the Justice40 Initiative to deliver 40 percent of the benefits of relevant Federal programs to “disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution”; and
  • Increased funding for the federal Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) program, with a portion of that funding devoted to zero-carbon technologies.

The map focuses on the various impacts of particulate matter (PM), which according to the California Air Resources Board is “a complex mixture of solids and aerosols composed of small droplets of liquid, dry solid fragments, and solid cores with liquid coatings.” The map specifically focuses on the negative impacts from fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which is comprised of particulate matter particles with diameters measuring 2.5 micrometers or less. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause harmful health impacts such as heart attacks, strokes, worsened asthma, and early death. It uses emissions and other data projections from the U.S. EPA for 2023. These projections are used in EPA’s regulatory work and constitute the best available data for this purpose. Additional information on the methodology can be found here.

CATF has a long history of advocating for reducing diesel emissions from the transportation sector as a public health imperative, helping pass and then pushing for the funding of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act to reduce these toxic emissions. CATF also recognizes the enormous climate benefits that accompany the public health imperative of phasing out diesel engines and replacing them with clean electric technologies and zero-carbon fueled vehicles.


Press Contact

Troy Shaheen, Communications Director, U.S., Clean Air Task Force, tshaheen@catf.us, +1 845-750-1189

About Clean Air Task Force

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a global nonprofit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. With 25 years of internationally recognized expertise on climate policy and a fierce commitment to exploring all potential solutions, CATF is a pragmatic, non-ideological advocacy group with the bold ideas needed to address climate change. CATF has offices in Boston, Washington D.C., and Brussels, with staff working virtually around the world.  

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