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Fossil fuels - the new 'asbestos'

By Ray Kearney - posted Wednesday, 23 November 2005

The growing body of international and Australian scientific evidence confirms the increasing risks to the public posed by toxic fossil fuel exhaust emissions. Traffic-related air pollution, especially coarse, fine and ultra-fine particles, gaseous irritants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) contribute to a number of health problems, for example:

  • lung cancer deaths and accelerated tumour growth;
  • increased cardio-vascular disease and myocardial infarcts;
  • limited blood flow and increased blood clotting;
  • increased sensitivity to bacterial products in airways; and
  • more severe common viral asthma.

In general, these partly environmental diseases, like those associated with asbestos and tobacco, are an outcome of a pervasive system of corporate decision-making (pdf file 82KB), and influence.


“Denial” of a hazard by an expert may not imply - 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth'" cautioned M. Greenberg in his paper titled The Art of Perpetuating a Public Health Hazard  (2005).

The Federal Government has initiated policies and measures that partly address and in time may reduce these impacts on human health. These policies include the following initiatives:

  • support for the increased production, distribution and use of ethanol as a clean renewable energy fuel;
  • active replacement of toxic fossil fuels (diesel and petrol) with ethanol or ethanol-blended petrol, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) and bio-diesel; and
  • reduction of highly toxic aromatics for example, benzene, in existing petrol.

A clear, non-partisan policy, in support of greatly expanded use of renewable and alternative fuels is needed.

Clean fuels such as ethanol, bio-diesel, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) would represent the introduction of known and proven measures to reduce risks posed to human health by petrol and diesel fuels. All of these measures, including the installation of in-tunnel filtration and gas detoxification systems in vehicular tunnels in heavily populated cities, are endorsed by the Australian Medical Association at both Federal and NSW Branch levels.

Ethanol is particularly suitable as an alternative fuel because it is renewable and is not a carrier of the types of toxic particles found in petroleum-based fuels such as petrol and diesel. Sweden’s Saab manufacturer now markets the most popular premium car sold in the UK and is powered by 85 per cent ethanol-petrol (E 85), which means a car that is cleaner, more powerful and cheaper to run than the petrol-powered equivalent.


The recommendations of the recent Biofuels Taskforce, convened by Prime Minister John Howard, seemed to lack insight. Many believe the findings were partly compromised by the alleged prejudices and of members of the taskforce committee. For example, to list on the website of the taskforce the CSIRO’s critique of Dr Gary Whitten’s key research work of the benefits of E10, without also posting Dr Whitten’s rebuttal of the CSIRO’s claims, appears to demonstrate a high degree of subjectivity, and lack of scientific probity.

Some observers believe these peculiarities were also reflected in the taskforce’s report and its recommendations. Indeed, the recommendations appear to carry a strong whiff, not only of anti-ethanol red herrings, but also of nepotism.

The extent of political and corporate-funded science is of concern because, as recent articles (pdf file 82KB) show, there is a tradition of manipulation of evidence, data, and analysis, ultimately designed to maintain favourable conditions for industry, at material, political and institutional levels. Other excellent articles on this subject of “corporate corruption” can also be accessed here.

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About the Author

Dr Ray Kearney is Associate Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, The University of Sydney and a community advocate for the installation of filtration systems in traffic tunnels to remove noxious exhaust pollution.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Ray Kearney
Related Links
Delta Farm Press
Diesel Fuel News
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