CSE welcomes the move to restrain diesel cars in Delhi

December 11, 2015

  • Diesel exhaust has already been branded as human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO has shocked the world

  • The current emissions standards allow diesel cars to emit three times more nitrogen oxide and five to seven times particulate matter which is negligible from petrol cars 

  • Distorted fuel pricing policy that has kept diesel prices lower than petrol has incited rapid dieselization of car fleet at a serious risk to public health

  • Globally, there has been restrictive action on diesel.

  • CSE demands Euro VI norms in NCR by 2017 and in the country quickly

New Delhi, December 11, 2015: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) welcomes the move by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to restrict sales of diesel car in Delhi. This is a long-pending air pollution control action that needs to be implemented urgently to reduce risk to public health in our cities. “Diesel cars not only contribute to the rising particulate matter and nitrogen oxide that in turn forms ozone, but their emissions also enhance lung cancer risk,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director, CSE.

While restraining use of diesel in personal vehicle segment, India needs a clean diesel road map for other uses like freight and generator sets, prevent use of under-taxed and under-priced toxic diesel in cars and reduce its overall consumption in all sectors, said CSE.

Highlights of key concerns around diesel cars: 

Diesel cars are legally allowed to emit more particulate matter and nitrogen oxides than petrol cars: Dieselisation adds to the burden of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and ozone the key pollutants of concern in Indian cities. The current emissions standards in India legally allow diesel cars to emit more particulate matter and nitrogen oxides – which are the most serious pollutants of concern in our city’s air – than petrol cars.  Diesel cars are legally allowed to emit three times more NOx than petrol cars. 

Particulate matter from petrol cars are so negligible that they are not regulated. But emissions factor of the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) shows that diesel cars emit five times more particulate matter and seven times more total air toxins compared to petrol cars. Air toxins like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from diesel can even affect the foetus. The emission norms for both petrol and diesel cars begin to close gaps only at Euro VI level. “It is therefore important that Euro VI emissions standards are introduced quickly to get clean diesel for all other uses like freight and commercial transport,” said Roy Chowdhury.

Strong link with lung cancer: The IARC of WHO gives its scientific verdict that diesel engine exhaust can cause cancer, especially lung cancer, in humans. The IARC reclassifies diesel exhaust and removes it from group 2A list of `probable carcinogens` to its group 1 list of substances that have definite links to cancer. Thus, its status is changed from “probable carcinogen” to “carcinogen”. The diesel exhaust is now in the same class of deadly carcinogens as asbestos, arsenic and tobacco, among others. This is based on a rigorous review of the latest scientific evidence on the cancer-causing potential of diesel and petrol exhausts. 

Evidence on diesel's toxicity has been mounting over the past 20 years, which has already compelled stringent regulatory action on diesel quality and emissions standards in other regions of the world. The cancer-causing potential of diesel particulates and emissions is several times higher than some of the worst known air toxins. For instance, the number of excess cancer cases per million people per micrgramme per cubic meter diesel particulate emissions concentration over a 70 year lifetime exposure is 300. This is several times higher than the dangerous toxics like 1,3-Butadiene which is 170.

Rapid dieselization is increasing toxic risk within breathing zone: Diesel vehicles release emissions within the breathing zone of people. In a city like Delhi, more than 55 per cent of its 17 million people live within the 500 metre of major roads are directly affected by traffic emissions. More dieselization encouraged by cheaper diesel fuel will lace the air with more cancer causing diesel exhaust. Air toxins like diesel exhausts can trigger cancer even at trace amounts. While immediate measures are needed to reduce diesel consumption, urgent steps are also needed simultaneously to clean up diesel.

Cheap diesel can make India more energy-insecure: The diesel car market, by shifting to bigger cars, is plainly undermining the fuel efficiency advantages that small cars bring. While the bulk of petrol car sales (87 per cent) are for vehicles below 1200 cc in engine capacity, more than 40 per cent of diesel car sales are for those above 1500 cc. Last year, SUV sales alone witnessed 41 per cent growth.

Tighten emissions standards to clean up diesel for all uses: After restraining cars diesel will still be used in trucks, commercial vehicles, gen-sets and agricultural pump sets. Steps should be taken to bring clean diesel for all uses. It is extremely worrying that after the implementation of the auto fuel policy in 2010 that introduced Bharat Stage III in the country, and Bharat Stage IV only in a few cities, Government of India has not set the next target for moving quickly to Euro VI emissions standards. Therefore, the new automobile production and investments in the country is not even linked to any further commitment to improving vehicle technology and fuel quality. This will significantly delay adoption of clean diesel technology in the country and add to the toxic risk. Europe, the US, Japan and other countries have leapfrogged to cleaner diesel for all uses – diesel with 10 ppm sulphur content and used with advanced emissions control systems. But diesel sulphur level in India is as high as 350 ppm. Only a few cities have 50 ppm sulphur diesel – five times higher than the global benchmark.

Other governments taking action against diesel: globally, the proactive governments have responded to the science of diesel toxicity much early. California Air Resources Board had identified diesel exhaust in 1990 as a chemical known to the state to cause cancer and, after an extensive review in 1998, listed diesel exhaust as a toxic air contaminant. The US National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences added diesel particulates to its list of substances that are reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens in its ninth national toxicology report on carcinogens. In fact, a multiple air toxics exposure study conducted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California found that diesel particulates pose 70 per cent of the cancer risk in the basin or in southern California. Beijing and Brazil have banned diesel cars. In fact, in China diesel cars are about 1-2% of all cars. Sri Lanka has drastically reduced the share of diesel cars by taxing them very high.

Rethink on diesel in Europe: Several European cities are failing to meet the targets of ambient air quality standards for NOx, which is not only harmful in itself but also contributes towards formation of deadly ozone. Only last year, the United Kingdom was dragged to the European Court of Justice for violating ambient NOx standards. This has led to a serious backlash against diesel cars. Eight cities in the UK are planning to ban diesel cars and more European cities are banning them in areas of towns declared as low emission zones. Paris is also bringing restrictive action on diesel cars. There is a serious rethink on diesel.

Moreover, after the Volkswagen fraud case more studies in Europe and the US have found that several other well known diesel brands are finding it harder to keep their real world NOx emissions low. Even after meeting the best emissions standards of Euro VI in Europe, on-road emission levels of NOx from diesel cars on an average are at least 7 to 10 times higher than the certified emission limit. This has become a serious cause for concern.

Government suffers revenue loss from diesel used in cars: Public health costs must figure in diesel’s balance sheet. Why should rich car-owners should be allowed to use under-taxed diesel in cars? Today a two-wheeler user pays more tax per litre of petrol than a diesel car and an SUV-user pays for a litre of diesel. With each litre of diesel that is replaced with petrol, excise revenue drops.

CSE demands:

  • Restraint on diesel cars to reduce public health risk of motorization. It is consistent with global best practice.

  • Tighten the emissions standards roadmap: Immediately introduced Bharat Stage IV emissions stanadrs so that the truck norms can improve by 80 per cent. Introduce Euro VI in Delhi and NCR by 2017 and nationwide quickly. This will bring in 10 ppm sulphur diesel along with advanced emissions control systems. 

  • Implement in-service compliance regulations to monitor and ensure that emissions control systems are performing throughout the useful life of the vehicle on the road: This is the big lesson from the Volkswagen fraud case and also the evidence that even other diesel cars meeting tighter standards are not performing optimally in Europe. 


For further information, please contact Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/ vrinda.nagar@cseindia.org