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Cars and Air Pollution

When motor vehicles started to become popular at the beginning of the 20th century, they were heralded as an answer to the pollution problem of that era, created by the vast numbers of horses on the roadways. Cars were few, and horses were many. Now the problem is turned around. We now have huge numbers of cars, each leaving a little bit of poison in the atmosphere.

Government has of course, recognized and been trying to minimize the problem for decades. In the 1970’s, car manufacturers added emission controls. Fuel chemistry evolved. Skytrain, HOV lanes, and programs such as Ride Share have been developed. The ever-rising cost of motor vehicles, parts, fuel, and insurance should have had some restraining effect. But despite these trends and efforts, the problem remains, at least according to the following Canadian statistics on www.cleanair.ca:                                            
  • Per capita car ownership up 300% in the last 40 years.
  • Kilometers traveled by urban automobiles up 500%.
  • Urban transit rides per person per year down from 250 to under 100.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions per kilometer traveled by new passenger vehicles up 13% over the last decade. 
  • Gasoline sulphur levels at an average of 343 ppm giving Canadaamong the highest levels in the industrialized world.
Reducing air pollution from motor vehicles involves reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road and reducing emissions per motor vehicle kilometer traveled. BC took one of the boldest steps in Canada to reduce emissions by introducing in 1992 the Motor Vehicle Emissions Inspection and Maintenance Program, more commonly called "Air Care.” Air Care measures emission levels for the following regulated pollutants: Hydrocarbons (HC), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Oxides of Nitrogen (ONx) and diesel particulate.
The Air Care website (www.aircare.ca) defines these regulated pollutants as follows:
“Hydrocarbons (HC) exhaust emissions are a product of incomplete combustion of a hydrocarbon fuel such as gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and propane. HC emissions can also occur from evaporation of liquid hydrocarbons. HC emissions contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, which can cause serious damage to human health and vegetation.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is formed when a carbon fuel is burned incompletely. A high CO reading means too much fuel. Fuel can only come from three sources, the crankcase vapor control system, the evaporative control system, or the actual fuel delivery system.
Oxides of Nitrogen (ONx) emissions occur when fuels are burned at high temperature. Some of the nitrogen (N2) in the air combines with some of the oxygen (O2) in the air to form nitric oxide (NO). In an engine, some of the NO undergoes additional reactions and turns into nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO and NO2 emissions, collectively referred to as ONx emissions contribute to ozone formation, and lead to a build up of nitrogen dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which are known to increase the risk of respiratory disease in children.”
Please drive safely.

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