What are the dangers of exhaust fumes?

Updated March 23, 2017

The carbon monoxide and particulate matter in exhaust fumes contributes to respiratory and cardiac ailments and global warming. Carbon monoxide is invisible and odourless and symptoms of poisoning are easy to mistake for flu symptoms. Carbon monoxide poisoning victims in idling cars often never realise the mortal danger they're in. Congested urban areas are particularly prone to high concentrations of exhaust fumes, requiring residents to be particularly mindful of air quality and personal health.

Asthma Symptom Exacerbation

The Children's Health Study reported that children living within 250 feet of a major thoroughfare were 1 1/2 times more likely to suffer asthma symptoms than children with homes 975 meters or farther from a similar roadway. Even when exhaust fumes and other pollutants are under the U.S. government's National Ambient Air Quality Standards benchmark for indicating a health hazard, exhaust fumes can still trigger asthma symptoms. Being near idling cars subjects pedestrians and drivers with asthma to carbon monoxide exposure levels that can cause an asthma attack, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Common symptoms of toxic carbon monoxide poisoning are weakness, headache, nausea and disorientation and extended exposure to carbon monoxide fumes can cause death by asphyxiation, according to MedLine Plus. Drivers backed up in heavy traffic are susceptible to carbon monoxide exposure that can trigger symptoms. Drivers shouldn't idle cars in garages due to the risk of carbon monoxide accumulation in the enclosed space, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Infants, children and seniors are at greater risk for succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning than the rest of the general public, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. It recommends that homeowners equip residences with carbon monoxide detectors.

Greenhouse Gas Emission

Exhaust fumes from vehicles combine with factory and power plant emissions to comprise the human activities most responsible for emitting greenhouse gases, National Geographic News reported in 2005. Stanford University researcher Mark Z. Jacobson wrote in August 2010 that soot emissions are a significant cause of global warming, noting that soot from exhaust fumes contains black carbon, a particle that efficiently absorbs solar radiation entering Earth's atmosphere as well as radiation reflected by the Earth.

Myocardial Ischemia

A British Heart Foundation study discovered that inhaling diesel fumes increases the incidence of myocardial ischemia, a condition that reduces the blood flow to the heart, and also inhibits the release of tissue plasminogen activator, also known as t-PA, a protein that helps prevent blood clotting. The reduction of the amount of oxygen the heart receives due to exhaust fumes increases the risk of a heart attack and diesel exhaust is particularly dangerous, containing 10 to 100 times the particulate matter within exhaust fumes from a gasoline engine.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Since 2006 Jim Orrill has produced reviews and essays on popular culture for publications including Lemurvision and "Sexis." Based in Western North Carolina, Orrill graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in office systems.