Australia in the slow lane on diesel danger


Diesel: Linked to serious health issues. Photo: Peter Rae

The rapid growth of diesel vehicles on Australian roads is becoming a health hazard and experts say very little is being done to address the problem.

Diesel has long been linked to serious health issues including cancer and respiratory diseases, but despite the warnings, Australia lags behind Europe in curbing emissions from diesel vehicles.

The number of diesel vehicles on the road has more than doubled since 2005, led by European diesel passenger cars and the rise in popularity of SUVs and one-tonne utes, which are predominantly sold in diesel form.

The European luxury cars have particulate filters that trap dangerous material inside vehicle exhausts, but many of the more popular Japanese utes and SUVs do not have this technology.

Health experts at a Senate hearing earlier this month said Australia had waited too long to adopt strict emissions laws and must address the ”urgent problem” of diesel particulates.

A planned progression from Australia’s current Euro 4 standard to the Euro 5 emissions standard will result in particulate limits dropping from 0.025g/km to 0.005g/km, but experts say the change could come too late.

Greens senator Richard Di Natale said emissions should be cut before the current deadlines.

”It’s not acceptable to be waiting around for years when we have the technology to do that straight away,” he said.

A Department of Infrastructure and Transport spokeswoman said while government standards ”do not mandate any particular technology”, particulate filters could soon be necessary for all new cars.

”We anticipate that virtually all diesel vehicles will require a particulate filter to meet the very stringent Euro 5 particulate emission limits,” she said. ”The Euro 5 standards will deliver an 80 per cent to 90 per cent reduction in the allowable level of harmful particle emissions compared to the current Euro 4 standards.”

Australia will adopt the Euro 5 standard in November, less than a year before Europe adopts the Euro 6 standard.

But manufacturers will be allowed to sell Euro 4 vehicles until November 2016, putting many Australian cars two generations behind European products.

”We know that the ultra fine particles are a real problem … an urgent problem, and we need to do more,” Steve Hambleton, federal president of the Australian Medical Association, said.

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