Study: E85 emissions could cause as many deaths as gasoline, or more

Emissions from vehicles running on 85 percent ethanol-based fuel are just as harmful to humans as those from vehicles that run on regular gasoline, a new stud suggests. The number of deaths E85 emissions could cause is equal to or greater than those caused by petroleum-based fuel.

The study was directed by Stanford Associate Professor Mark Jacobson, at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "It's true that ethanol does decrease some pollutants, but it also increases some others," Jacobson says.

His findings were published April 18th by the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science and Technology magazine.

Switching to E85 could result in higher ozone-related mortality, hospitalization, and asthma, Jacobson claims. The result of switching entirely to E85 fuel would be 185 more deaths per year across the U.S., with 125 of those in Los Angeles. Jacobson says Ethanol would worsen the ozone problem in urban areas where smog is already a major problem: Los Angeles and the Northeast. Ozone levels would actually fall Southeast due to a unique blend of chemicals in the air and the heavy vegetation.

President Bush, biofuels industry groups, and even the American Lung Association have promoted ethanol as good for public health, ES&T notes.

"If you want to use ethanol, fine, but don't do it based on health grounds. It's no better than gasoline, apparently slightly worse," Jacobson told the Associated Press.

While public health might not be a benefit to E85, Jacobson admits there are other factors -- both pluses and downsides -- that need to be studied. These include greenhouse-gas emissions, U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and the environmental impacts of growing plants for ethanol.