Health Impacts of Vehicle Fuel Highlighted in New Documentary and Public Awareness Website

Source: By Jessie Stolark. EESI • Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014

On October 3, the film Pump: The Movie will begin screening at theaters.  The documentary from Director Josh Tickell details the steep societal costs of our transportation fuels – and the quest to find clean, cheap alternatives.  Furthermore, on September 30, the Urban Air Initiative released a powerful public awareness website –, which tallies the numerous health effects of passenger vehicle tailpipes, which have been well documented by public health researchers. Pump is a companion piece to his 2008 movie, Fuel, which won the Audience Award for documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival. His films have been spurred in large part by his mother’s suffering from lupus, a debilitating auto-immune disease.  It is thought that her disease was caused by her living close to several petroleum refineries in Port Allen, LA, which happens to be one town on the refinery and industrial waste-packed stretch from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, aptly dubbed – ‘Cancer Alley’.  And while vehicle fuel isn’t the only hazardous compound coming out of petrochemical refineries, it may be the most ubiquitous in our urban environments.

Tickell began his quest for better fuel alternatives when he adapted an old van to run on biodiesel from restaurant grease.  He drove the van cross-country, calling it the “Veggie Van Voyage”.  His trip resulted in a book, “From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank”, and eventually, his first film on the topic of the fuel supply. Together with, a sobering picture about the immense societal and environmental costs of our fossil fuel use begins to emerge.  Between the two, it is pointed out that:

  • In China, 15.5 million cars were purchased in 2013 alone.
  • The United States produces 8 million barrels of oil a day, but consumes 18 million barrels a day.  Worldwide, 88 million barrels of oil are consumed per day.
  • Of the Department of Defense’s annual budget of $630 billion dollars, $507 billion is spent to support a military presence in the oil-rich Middle East.
  • Gasoline contains 20 – 30% by volume of toxic aromatic compounds such as benzene, a known carcinogen.
  • Tailpipe emissions include ultra-fine particulates. These particulates act as vectors for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), carrying them into soft body tissues and bloodstreams which larger particulates can’t reach.
  • According to research supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), these compounds have been linked to higher incidences of lung cancer, stroke, as well as birth defects and developmental disorders in children – such as autism and ADHD. is asking the EPA to make changes necessary to clean up fuels – and improve the air that everyone’s breathing.  While EPA has made great progress on air toxics in the last 20 years, action is still needed to address the aromatic toxic compounds in gasoline fuels. In Pump, Tickell also lies out concrete solutions that can be taken immediately such as increased electrification of the vehicle fleet and further use of renewable fuels – such as ethanol, in our vehicles.  According to Pump, we weren’t always tied to gasoline as the predominant vehicle fuel in the United States.  One hundred years ago, electric trolley cars were common, and some of the first cars were designed to run on alcohol.  Just as we got the lead out, it is now well past time to clean up our fuels – hopefully, this time, for good.

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