Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Study warns of health risk from ethanol

Not only is ethanol using up food and raising the price of food globally, but it turns out it is a worse pollutant than gasoline??

From the San Fransisco Chronicle:
A new study out of Stanford says pollution from ethanol could end up creating a worse health hazard than gasoline, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

"Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution," Mark Z. Jacobson, the study's author and an atmospheric scientist at Stanford, said in a statement. "But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage."

The study appears in today's online edition of Environmental Science & Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society. It comes at a time when the Bush administration is pushing plans to boost ethanol production and the nation's automakers are required by 2012 to have half their vehicles run on flex fuel, allowing the use of either gasoline or ethanol.

Jacobson used a computer to model how pollution from ethanol fuel would affect different parts of the country in 2020, when ethanol-burning vehicles are expected to be common on America's roadways.

He found that ethanol-burning cars could boost levels of toxic ozone gas in urban areas, but that Los Angeles residents would be by far the hardest hit because of the city's reliance on the automobile and environmental factors that tend to concentrate smog there.

His study showed that the city would experience a 9 percent increase in the rate of ozone-related respiratory deaths -- 120 more deaths per year -- compared with what would have been projected in 2020 assuming continued gasoline use.

Pollution from ethanol would be riskier than pollution from gasoline because when ethanol breaks down in the atmosphere, it generates considerably more ozone. Ozone is a highly corrosive gas that damages the delicate tissues of the lungs. In fact, it's so corrosive that it can crack rubber and wear away statues, Jacobson told The Chronicle.

Jacobson's study focuses on the health effects of an ethanol type called E85, a highly publicized fuel composed of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Last month, California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, along with Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both R-Maine, introduced a bill to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles. The bill would "require fuel suppliers to increase the percentage of low-carbon fuels -- biodiesel, E85 ... hydrogen, electricity, and others -- in the motor vehicle fuel supply" by 2015, according to a March 30 press release from Feinstein's office.

Reacting to Jacobson's study, Feinstein issued a statement Tuesday.

"We should proceed with caution," she said. "All of these fuels emit certain pollutants, and those pollutants have to be known and evaluated for their health effects. There can be no real rush to judgment about these fuels.

"We've got to find a way to develop low-carbon fuels that do not have adverse health effects." [snip]

"The burning of ethanol releases large quantities of ozone, a serious air pollutant," he said. "In addition, the use of ethanol as a fuel releases formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, plus benzene and butadiene. All of these are carcinogens and are a threat to public health."

Jacobson's study, however, concluded that the cancer-causing effects of ethanol would be roughly comparable to those of gasoline. [snip]

Alex Farrell, a Berkeley professor of energy and resources, was also complimentary of the study.

"It's a good scientific paper that has taken the first look at the air-quality impacts of ethanol in a worst-case scenario," he said. "It is definitely my opinion that ethanol is not the only solution to air pollution."

Jacobson's computer model for Los Angeles is extremely high-resolution, as such models go. It breaks the Los Angeles atmosphere into a three-dimensional grid akin to 100,000 "boxes" stacked more than 10 miles high. Each box measures 3 miles wide and a few hundred feet deep.

He said he isn't surprised that no one previously tried to model the long-term health impacts of ethanol in such detail "because it's very complicated."

"The only reason I was able to do it is because I've been building this model for 18 years now," he said. "You really require a humongous model."
Yup, let's starve people and kill a bunch of others by using ethanol.

Oh, and electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars may not pollute the atmosphere DIRECTLY, but they will increase electricity use and that will increase emissions from power plants. Yes, they create hydrogen using electricity. Unless we find a way to create clean electricity, we are still polluting the environment.

Then there is the argument for getting off foreign oil. It sounds good, but we will still be relying on FOREIGN FOOD crops, because we cannot grow enough crops to fuel all our combustion engines.

Some say we should go Nuclear, but what about all the nuclear waste? With the half-life of the nuclear waste being astronomically long.

From Wikipedia:
Certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) in “spent” fuel will remain hazardous to humans and other living beings for hundreds of thousands of years. Other radioisotopes will remain hazardous for millions of years. Thus, these wastes must be shielded for centuries and isolated from the living environment for hundreds of millennia
So, any bright ideas folks?