Most Heavily Impacted Areas Bear Disproportionate Health Burden
CHICAGO – As rising summer-like temperatures lead to worsening air quality, a new Respiratory Health Association (RHA) report details how harmful pollution from diesel engine exhaust is making the air unhealthy for Illinois residents to breathe. The report, which references data and projections from the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), shows that exhaust from diesel engines will lead to more than 5,000 asthma attacks, nearly 200 heart attacks, and 416 premature deaths across the state in 2023 alone.
“The number of people directly impacted by diesel pollution in Illinois is already staggering,” noted Brian Urbaszewski, RHA’s director of environmental health programs. “It’s even more alarming when you see these pollution levels are 21 percent higher than the national average. While Illinois residents comprise 3.8 percent of the U.S. population, the 416 projected deaths in 2023 represent 4.7 percent of total projected deaths nationally.”
The report breaks out health data at the county level for the top 12 counties in Illinois. All are in the top nine percent of counties nationwide for diesel exhaust exposure. The so-called “Dirty Dozen” counties include Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, Kane, Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall, McHenry, Dekalb, Madison and Iroquois. Collectively these counties include 64 percent of Illinois’ population, but see 77 percent of the premature deaths, and 80 to 83 percent of the harmful health effects from residents breathing diesel exhaust.
“The figures in this report are additionally concerning as Illinois’s freight industry and truck production continue to grow – affecting everyone’s breathing, but especially more vulnerable people living in predominantly low-income minority communities near diesel engine magnets,” Urbaszewski continued. “With zero-emission trucks already being built here in Illinois, we need to make sure that clean, non-polluting vehicles stay in Illinois rather than just be exported to other states.”
The report’s release comes one year after the Illinois General Assembly urged Gov. Pritzker to join an agreement with 17 other states promising to increase the number of zero-emission trucks sold in coming years (House Resolution 296, Senate Resolution 293). Known as the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy–Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, the states that have signed on pledged that 30 percent of new large trucks and buses sold in 2030 will be zero-emission, and that 100 percent of those vehicles sold would be zero-emission by 2050. To date, the Governor has yet to commit Illinois to this agreement.
The health impacts presented in the study are solely due to fine particulate matter exposure, which are particles small enough to reach deep into a person’s lungs and bloodstream. While the report looks at pollution exposure at the county level, people who live, work, or go to school closer to places with higher diesel exhaust concentrations, like near highways or freight facilities, are also more likely to have health impacts due to this pollution no matter where they live in Illinois.
Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit resphealth.org.
Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs