Study: Biofuels Could Add Years to Lives

Researchers Statistically Link Gasoline Production And Use to Occurence of Toxin-Related Diseases

Yaroslava Ryazanova/Staff

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Scientists at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found in a recent assessment of the U.S. that decreasing gasoline emissions from transportation would not only benefit the environment, but also have a marked impact on human health.

In a preliminary analysis presented at a conference in early May, researchers reported that reducing gas pollutant emissions by 10 percent would decrease people's chances of developing diseases caused by toxins released during gasoline burning.

The assessment, called the Life Cycle Impact Assessment, was co-led by UC Berkeley researchers Thomas McKone, adjunct professor in the School of Public Health, and Arpad Horvath, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The analysis examines emissions from both the production and transportation use of gasoline, finding that a significant portion of disability adjusted life years is caused by pollutants generated from vehicle-produced emissions.

Disability adjusted life years make up the time a person's life span is cut short or their health is not at its peakdue to exposure to specific chemicals. The estimated number of total disability adjusted life years for U.S. residents is approximately 30 million years.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found that reducing vehicle-produced gasoline emissions by 10 percent would reduce the country's total disability adjusted life years anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 years, said Agnes Lobscheid, a researcher from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who worked on the analysis.

Lobscheid said residents living in urban regions, where gas stations are located, are likely to be more affected by gas emissions.

Previous research has already shown how certain chemicals impact human health. By examining the health impacts of chemicals specifically emitted during gasoline production and use, scientists were able to estimate how gasoline emissions increased the number of disability adjusted life years for humans.

The analysis quantifies the link between reducing gas emissions and health. It will serve as a comparison for when researchers study the health effects of alternatively producing and using biofuels.

The assessment was conducted as part of the campus Energy Biosciences Institute's ongoing research towards alternative biofuels.

"We're setting the base line for future comparisons with biofuel scenarios we'll run into," Lobscheid said.

In examining each stage of gasoline production, including transportation, the scientists raised the issue of the uncertainty in the scenarios, but say with more data, they can improve their analysis.

"We will take a comprehensive look at the lifecycle stages of biofuels and compare that with the lifecycle emission estimates of gasoline," Lobscheid said.


Contact Christine Chen at [email protected]

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