cars on the street releasing air pollutants which creates air pollution

Car Emissions and Air Pollution: Health Impacts of Air Pollution and Ways to Improve Air Quality

Blog written by Veva.

Cars and trucks are the leading cause of air pollution today in the USA.

Forget about air pollution caused by public transit systems, rapid suburbanization, and household emissions. Sure, they all release pollutants into the air, but for the most part, air pollution stems from the rapid increase in cars and trucks.

Cars have created a reliance on personal vehicles for transportation and increased the number of highways, resulting in the closure of certain public transports.

The impact was modest at first, but with time, millions of U.S. residents found themselves living in areas that didn't meet the federal air quality standards. For the rest of the world, 90% of the population breathes air that surpasses WHO safety limits — exceeding the safe pollutant levels.

People are using purifiers and filters to counter the health risks of air pollution. However, is that enough?

Let's start from the basics to find out.

What is Air Pollution?

Air pollution is the release of a harmful or poisonous substance in the air that can affect human health and the globe. According to WHO, air pollution accounts for nearly 4.2 million deaths a year due to health complications such as:

  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Acute, chronic respiratory diseases
  • Heart disease

WHO further states that air pollution is a huge threat to health that causes premature deaths because it worsens respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Surprisingly, that's just the beginning.

What Are the Major Air Pollutants from Cars?

On average, energy conversion in a car engine releases different pollutants when burning gasoline. The pollutants cars emit include:

Particulate Matter 

The soot from car exhaust contains particulate matter less than one-tenth of the diameter of human hair. Due to their small size, the particulate matter can penetrate through the lungs or the bloodstream, posing a serious threat to respiratory and cardiovascular health.

Carbon Monoxide

When cars burn fuel, they release carbon monoxide. When we breathe in air with a high concentration of carbon monoxide, it can affect critical organs like the brain and heart.

A study shows that 95% of all carbon monoxide in cities comes from motor vehicle exhaust. When carbon monoxide reaches the atmosphere, it is quickly oxidized to carbon dioxide, increasing the greenhouse effect.

Nitrogen Oxides 

Nitrogen and oxygen in the air react when a car engine burns fuel to form acidic nitrogen oxides. Breathing air with high concentrations of nitrogen oxides has adverse side effects on the respiratory system.

Nitrogen oxides cause lung irritation and weaken the defense against respiratory diseases like influenza and pneumonia.

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds the vehicles emit include toxic air pollutants that react with nitrogen oxides to form ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone is the major cause of smog.

The volatile organic compounds vehicles release include:

Sulfur Dioxide

Cars release sulfur dioxide when they burn sulfur-containing fuels like diesel. The gas reacts in the atmosphere to form particles that pose a huge risk to asthmatics and young children.

How Car Pollution Impacts Your Health

The WHO states that the small amounts of air pollution from vehicle emissions negatively impact human health more than the world previously understood. Pollutants from car emissions appear to worsen respiratory disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

Let's explore each impact that car air pollutants have on health in more detail.

Respiratory Diseases

Car emissions release gaseous pollutants that can affect lung development and worsen respiratory diseases such as: 

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Emphysema.

Particulate matter in car soot and nitrogen oxides can cause chronic bronchitis.

Cardiovascular Diseases

The fine particulate matter in soot can be deposited in the bloodstream and impair blood vessel functions. The particles encourage the build-up of calcium within the walls of your blood vessels supplying oxygen, which increases the risk of coronary artery disease.

Other studies show that daily exposure to nitrogen oxides in post-menopausal women increases their risk of getting a hemorrhagic stroke.

Even more, traffic-related air pollution lowers good cholesterol levels in older people, which increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

National Toxicological Program reports that traffic-related pollution increases the risk of dangerous changes in blood pressure (hypertensive disorders) in pregnant women. Hypertensive disorders are the leading cause of low birth weight, preterm birth, maternal and fetal illness.


Car air pollutants increase the risk of getting breast cancer in women. According to a recent study involving over 57,000 female subjects, women living near major roadways had an increased risk of getting cancer.

On the other hand, exposure to benzene and other gasoline components is linked with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and causes leukemia. Different cancer studies show that incomplete combustion of fossil fuel may be responsible for an increased rate of lung cancer. 

How to Reduce Air Pollution from Car Emissions

After checking the impact of car pollution on human health, you'd probably wonder about how you can help reduce car pollution. The good news is that with simple fixes, you can help the world fight the car pollution disaster by implementing the following:

Drive Less

Driving less translates to reduced car emissions. You can reduce driving time by:

  • Biking or walking whenever possible
  • Use public transit when you can
  • Carpool with your friends instead of driving alone 

Reducing driving miles reduces air pollution from cars.

Drive Fuel-Efficient Vehicles

When buying a car, consider a fuel-efficient vehicle with low greenhouse gas emissions. Such cars release fewer pollutants into the atmosphere while saving you money on fuel costs.

For instance, you can choose:

  • An electric vehicle that emits zero pollutants into the atmosphere
  • A plug-in hybrid vehicle that combines electric and gasoline technology
  • Hydrogen fuel cell car that uses an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine
  • Cleaner burning gasoline car that reduces smog-forming emissions

Don't Leave Your Car Engine Running Idle

Car idling is running your car's engine when it isn't moving. An idle engine:

  • Pollutes the air
  • Wastes fuel
  • Causes excess engine wear

Unlike older vehicle models, modern vehicles don't require warm-up, so there is no need to keep the engine running to be ready to drive. What's more, turn off your engine when you're at a red light or stuck in traffic. The practice protects you from exposure to your car emissions.

Conduct Regular Car Maintenance

Regardless of the vehicle you're driving, keeping it well-maintained helps keep the air clean and extends its lifetime. Some maintenance practices that help keep the air clean include:

  • Inflating your tires to the recommended level. When you don't properly inflate your tires, you increase the car's fuel consumption, wear the tires, and increase exhaust emissions
  • Changing oil more often contributes to a cleaner engine and lowers exhaust emissions
  • Keeping the car air filters clean to reduce the emission of pollutants into the air

How Can You Protect Yourself From Air Pollution From Cars?

The WHO says that air pollution is among the world's leading health hazards. Its risk is far greater, particularly for heart disease and strokes.

You should get involved in the fight for cleaner and healthy air to protect you and your family from the dangers of car pollution. Here are some simple tips:

  1. Check the air pollution forecasts in your area to let you know when the air is unhealthy in your community. You can get the updates on local TV and weather reports online or in newspapers.
  2. Don't exercise outdoors when the pollution levels are high. Instead, walk into the gym or use an exercise machine to limit your exposure to pollutants.
  3. Invest in a dehumidifier and an air purifier to help with particulate pollutants from cars and keep your air clean. However, they don't have effects on chemical gases from car exhaust.
  4. Don't exercise near high-traffic areas even if the air quality forecast is green, because vehicles cause pollution up to one-third a mile away.

Can Air Purifiers Protect Your Indoor Air from Car Pollution?

Staying indoors doesn't mean you're immune from car pollution. Research shows that 90% of the world population lives in communities where the air quality doesn't meet WHO guideline limits.

You can choose a great quality air purifier to help improve indoor air quality. You have three types of air filters you can choose from:

  • The mechanical filter
  • Gas-phase air filter
  • UV-based air filter

The mechanical filter can help you clear the particulate pollutant from cars that risk cardiovascular complications. However, it won't deal with the gaseous pollutants from vehicles.

On the other hand, the gas phase air filter will work for the gaseous pollutants. The only problem is that gas air filters only work for specific types of gas and are ineffective against the rest.

The UV-based filters work for specific pollutants but can't work against particulate pollutants from car exhaust. What's more, the UV-based filter produces a trace amount of ozone, which is also a pollutant.

Get A Purifier that Protects You from Particulate Matter From Car Pollution

Your best shot at protecting your indoor air is with a filter that filters particulate particles down to 0.03-micron size, is ozone-free, and will help with other harmful pollutants like smoke, foul odor, pollen, bacteria, and even microbes.

At Veva, we provide complete air filtration and purification systems. The air purifier has an extra carbon filter ideal for absorbing the particulate matter from car emissions. The system sucks in the air first, moves it through the filter to capture the particulate matter from car emissions, and releases clean air into your living space.

Get a purifier today to improve the air quality in your home.

Next article Can Rain Really Decrease Air Pollution?