Bad News: Diesel Particle Emissions Cause Heart Attacks


Medical researchers at the University of Edinburgh have shown that chemical particles emitted by diesel exhaust fumes significantly increase the risk of heart attack in otherwise healthy adults.

That’s right, people:  in addition to environmentally damaging carbon emissions, political strife, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, the contamination of waterways, and devastating ecological impact (even when things are going “right”, like in Canada) we now have a fresh, new reason to hate big oil.

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, showed that it is these tiny diesel particulates, and not the gases, that noticeably impaired the function of small blood vessels and their ability to direct blood flow to the body’s organs (the heart, in particular).  These particles can be filtered out of exhaust emissions through the use of particle traps (like those found in AdBlue and Bluetec cars, and those already being retro-fit to public transit vehicles here in the US) but these filters require consistent, expensive maintenance.

Considering the evident health risks, Professor Jeremy Pearson (Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation) believes that policy-makers should clamp down on diesel particle emissions – despite the costs involved – rather sooner than later.  “Our research shows that while both gases and particles can affect our blood pressure, it is actually the miniscule chemical particles … that are really harmful.  These particles produce highly reactive molecules called free radicals that can injure our blood vessels and lead to vascular disease, … in the future we can try and remove these chemicals, and prevent the health effects of vehicle emissions.”

Dr. Pearson’s team of researchers are now pushing for environmental health measures that are designed to reduce diesel particle emissions in the UK (where diesel cars are significantly more common than in the US) to be tested to determine whether they reduce the incidence of heart attack, as well as greenhouse gasses.

Until that happens, though, Pearson advises that “people with (existing) heart disease should avoid spending long periods outside or in areas where traffic pollution is likely to be high … or near busy roads.”


SourceScience Daily;  Photo:

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • The fumes and the fear of what they were doing to my lungs (and my family’s) were the main reason I sold my ’02 Jetta TDI a few years ago. Every time I parked the car in the garage (practically a must for a diesel in the winter) and got out of the car I’d get a big whiff of fumes (and this was after the lower sulfur mandate…and yes the car was well tuned). Don’t get me wrong, I love diesels, but I definitely wouldn’t own one unless the particulate emissions could be significantly lowered. Does anyone know if that’s already the case with the current Jetta TDIs (compared to the previous generation)?

  • According to the EPA, B100 (pure bio-diesel, for those that don’t know) emits 47% less particulate matter than conventional diesel.

    Of course, eating enough fries to generate a few gallons of fry oil would probably be worse – although significantly more fun.

    • EXCELLENT point about the bio-diesel. I wonder if the new urea-based filters are better able to filter out that 47% on top of the initial drop … that made sense in my head.

      • I can’t imagine the drop would effectively stack. Back when I was reading about BlueTec, it was operating at a 15% emissions cut. I imagine that if it is still 15%, it would be 15% off of the remaining 53% emissions.

        So, bio with blue would produce about 45% the particulate matter emissions of conventional diesel.

        • I get that it wouldn’t stack, I was simply wondering if the BlueTec filters add to that 47% drop at all, since the particulates from the bio diesel are of different chemical natures than petro-diesel, and may not react to the catalysts in the same way.

  • I believe the particles they are talking about are emmitted from the new generation diesels that use very high pump pressure to inject the fuel – it creates particles that are very small and invisible to the eye. Old fashioned diesels that emit plenty of black smoke are “ok” – those particles are easily filtered in our nose and lungs.

    • No, I believe you have that incorrect. The study doesn’t make an obvious distinction like that (A) and you are the first person I have ever encountered on either side of the issue claiming diesel smoke is “easily filtered in our nose and lungs” (B).

      Kids, don’t listen to the Aussies on this one.

  • Diesel engines are actually quite good. I know that the US market don’t like them, as they see them only as making a lot of pollution. Like you said, you can use filters and you’ve got a very clean engine.

    In Europe all Diesel engines have to use these filters. It’s a law.

    Diesel engines uses much less fuel than other engines. A small car only needs around 3-4 litres when having a new Diesel engine. Even bigger cars don’t need more than 5-7 litres on 100 kilometres.

    So all you need is the filter and you got a great engine, which is even better for the environment. 😉

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  • Urea based systems(SCR)and EGR on diesels reduce NOx. High pressure common rail systems along with DPF’s decrease all the particulate emission to a level that is lower than the incoming air. Just for the clarification.

    • “Lower than the incoming air” is heavily dependent on your geography, I’d imagine.

  • In Europe, all the TDI cars have a filter for the exhaust … it’s a catalytic converter which reduct a big part of the particules.
    It has been proved that the new TDI with catalytic converter are much cleaner than the ol Diesel and the new regular gas engine.
    Their also are more efficence (50-55MPG) than any cars (even hybrid or anything else).
    By the way, your picture is really bad, as the pick-up truck use old engine, and are not representative of the usual use of the TDI today in Europe (nor to understand why so much people have a pick-up truck just to do few yards a day to buy biers ….)

    • @ yapas

      Actually the truck in the picture is a good representation of what many Americans use their turbodiesel trucks for….racing. There’s plenty of black smoke on our roads, believe me.

      • Sorry I’m a little late to this diesel “party,” but a little reality check. All modern diesels have diesel particulate filters (DPFs) that filter virtually all of the larges and small particulate matter, to the point where gasoline engines (especially direct injection ones) have higher PM than diesels. And as for racing and smoke, check out the ALMS-winning Audi TDIs or Peugeot diesels–the run DPFs on the track!

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  • JW

    You couldn’t be more wrong, in fact diesel emits lower amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide than gasoline. If your were to replace all diesel engines with gasoline engines, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide pollutants would nearly triple. Diesel is by far the most efficient internal combustion engine by far, and to say that its deadlier then a gasoline engine is just idiotic.

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