Diesel fumes cause cancer!

Throughout the world there has been a slow realisation that the exhaust from diesel engines is a key contributor to the clouds of pollut...


Throughout the world there has been a slow realisation that the exhaust from diesel engines is a key contributor to the clouds of pollution that envelope all our major cities. We have written frequently about the smog in China and also over at Paris, but we have not really written about the carcinogenic effect these fumes have.

When diesel burns inside an engine, it releases two potentially cancer-causing things: microscopic soot particles and chemicals called ‘polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons’, or PAH’s. According to David Phillips of Cancer Research UK, there are three possible ways that these can cause cancer:

“Firstly, inhaled PAH’s could directly damage the DNA in the cells of our lungs – leading to cancer.

“Secondly, the soot particles can get lodged deep inside the lungs, causing long-term inflammation, and thirdly this can increase the rate at which cells divide. So, if any nearby lung cells pick up random mutations, this inflammation could, theoretically, make them more likely to grow and spread.

“Diesel exhaust may be carcinogenic by a combination of these effects – we know the particles are coated with the PAH’s, delivering them deep into the lungs where they get stuck and, potentially, cause damage. I should stress, though, that we don’t know for certain which of these mechanisms is most important in practice.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees and has published a number of research documents demonstrating the links between diesel fumes and cancer, respiratory illness and heart disease; they believe that diesel emissions are as dangerous as passive smoking. Yet, without the diesel engine, just about everything that you consume in a day would not arrive at your table. The world is addicted to diesel; we rely on it as a cheap and convenient mode of transportation power that will get the things we want to us in a cheap and cheerful manner, and it is not going to go away soon.

To combat the scourge of diesel exhaust/emissions, nations all over the world have started to clean up exhaust emissions and whilst this is good for the average Joe in the streets, this is in fact bad news for the diesel engine. In particular, the sulfur content of diesel, which acted as a lubricant, has been removed and the process of hydrogenation that is used to remove the diesel seems to have lowered the cetane rating of much of the diesel available at the pump.

Diesel engines will operate fine on any cetane rating between 40 to 55, but the higher the number, the shorter the ignition delay is, and the more complete and efficient the combustion cycle becomes. However, a spokesperson for X-1R Global, said, “In our research, we found that cetane numbers in ULSD fluctuates in the range 40 to 45 cetane. And coinciding with what we've seen, with inconsistencies in cetane ratings at the pump, many diesel owners experience fluctuating fuel mileage.”

The truth is that most modern diesels can and will run on a range of cetane ratings; in fact, this is one of the beauties of the diesel engine. However, there will be a marked reduction in fuel efficiency and a reduction in parts life, particularly in the combustion side of the engine. To put it simply, the higher the cetane number, the more you can compress the fuel before it will spontaneously combust and when you confine an explosion into an even smaller space, you will achieve a greater violence in the ensuing BANG!

Frequently, there is more and more bio-mass being added to the fuels that we are pumping throughout the region. This may seem like a good environmentally-friendly thing to do, but there are some reasons for concern when it comes to your vehicle. If you allow any diesel fuel to sit around in storage, there will be some oxidisation occurring which will allow the formation of gums. In addition to this, the biomass added to diesel is naturally hygroscopic (actively seeks out moisture to combine with); normal fuels will absorb approximately 60ppm water whilst bio-fuels will absorb up to 1500ppm water. In addition to this, you will normally suffer about a 10% drop in calorific value of the fuel.

In fact, the diesel fuel in most of South East Asia is of such poor quality that some major fuel companies actually recommend adding a beaker of cooking oil to the tank prior to filling up. Sounds pretty crazy, really, when you consider that our good friends over at X-1R have a specifically formulated product to help you enjoy driving your diesel vehicle. The new(ish) X-1R Diesel System Cleaner is specifically formulated to be a low cost solution to the dubious quality of diesel fuel in the region. The product will condition all grades of diesel, effectively raising the cetane, lubricating the combustion side of the engine, cleaning away carbon deposits and banishing water from your system.

This means that you will have more complete combustion and a chance to actually achieve economical fuel consumption with naturally lowered pollution levels. Sounds good, right? 

images: govictoryblue.com,  x1r.com.my

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