For Immediate Release: June 14, 2006
Contact: Lauren Sucher, (202) 667-6982; Bill Walker, (510) 444-0973 x301
Summer Smog Season
Is Also Asthma Season:
Which Cars Help Kids Breathe Easier?
(WASHINGTON, June 14) The car you drive says a lot about you: your income, your personality, your family. Unfortunately, it also says how many asthmatic kids you've helped send to the hospital.
Summer brings more sun, more driving, and more smog. More smog means more asthma sufferers must reach for their inhalers, stay indoors or go to the emergency room. Asthmatic children, whose lungs are still developing, are harmed most.
Drivers can cut their contribution to smog by driving less and driving cleaner cars. But which cars are really cleanest—not just when new but after years of wear and tear?
In a year-long computer investigation, Environmental Working Group analyzed 2.5 million records of smog-forming emissions of California cars and trucks, recorded by state-licensed Smog Check stations. The records are the biggest and richest database available on how much pollution cars on the road actually emit. (As a measure of the entire U.S. fleet they are conservative, because California's smog standards are stricter than in most states.)
The EWG Auto Asthma Index is the first attempt to determine just which vehicles are most or least likely to contribute to America's asthma epidemic. It looks at smog not as an environmental problem but as a health crisis that harms over 20 million Americans. To look up the Asthma Index of your car, or one you're thinking of buying, go to www.cleancarsforkids.org.
EWG used the Smog Check data for cars made before 2001, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency test data for newer cars, to calculate an Index for over 10,000 models, measured on a scale of 1 (cleanest) to 10 (dirtiest) inhalers. The Index lets you see how much smog-forming air pollution is emitted by your car (or your neighbor's), and how your car and driving choices can reduce your impact on asthma and other air pollution-related illnesses. Since the dynamics of smog formation vary from region to region in the U.S., the Index is customized for each of the smoggiest cities in the country.
If you live in Chicago, driving a 2006 Kia Spectra instead of a 2006 Subaru Impreza would reduce by half your annual emissions of the chemicals that contribute to smog. In the Washington-Baltimore area, driving 2005 Mazda 6 Sport Wagon instead of a 2005 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 4Motion would cut your emissions by 60 percent.
Shopping for a new minivan? The 2006 Pontiac Montana, Chrysler Town & Country and Mazda MPV emit 4 to 6 times more smog-forming chemicals than the Mercury Monterey.
Even within the same company and the same vehicle type, some models are much cleaner than others. A 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser emits 5 times more of one class of smog-forming chemicals than a 2005 Toyota 4Runner. To put it another way, in some cities the Land Cruiser is 5 times more harmful to asthma sufferers than the 4Runner.
"We associate cars with freedom, but your freedom to drive can limit a child's freedom to breathe," said EWG Senior Scientist Sonya Lunder, a principal investigator for the Index. "Once cigarettes were considered purely a personal choice; today everyone knows the dangers of secondhand smoke. We have to start considering the impact of the car we drive on the health of our family, friends and neighbors."
EWG found that a car's smog score doesn't depend just on its size or its miles per gallon. Vehicle pollution varies widely based on the automaker, the year it was built, the miles it's been driven and how well it was designed and built and has been maintained.
Among the largest automakers, cars from General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler were more polluting than comparable models from other makers.
Four-year-old cars with 80 to 100,000 miles on the odometer emit twice as much smog-forming chemicals per mile as vehicles with 20 to 40,000 miles.
Even typically clean models can include a number of extreme polluters. A typical 2000 Honda Civic with automatic transmission was almost as clean as today's cleanest new cars. But fully one-tenth of the 2000 Civics tested emitted 6.5 times more pollution than the typical Civic.
While consumer choices drive the market, in the end drivers can only choose from what's available. Technology exists to make cars that are much cleaner when they come off the showroom floor and stay clean for 150,000 miles or longer. To encourage automakers to clean up their fleets, federal regulators should tighten emissions rules and require labeling of pollution ratings on all new vehicles. States should create an inspections system to catch the worst polluters, and initiate a buy back program to get the dirtiest cars off the road as soon as possible.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.