Health impacts of Israel's transport system.


Road-oriented development is a major trigger for air pollution both directly and indirectly. Cars and buses generate more pollution per mile traveled than rail and pedestrian systems. Secondly, road-oriented development spurs patterns of urban sprawl which generate more automobile use over greater distances--and therefore more pollution. (1)

The State of California Air Resources Board found that a major regional shopping center served primarily by automobiles generates 29 times more Carbon Monoxide emissions than a 1600 megawatt power plant. When a similar shopping center is located in an urban area, served by good regional transit and pedestrian systems, car travel to the center drops from 93 percent of trips to about 38 percent. At the same time, pedestrian travel and public transit trips increase from a combined 5 percent to 61 percent--resulting in enormous savings in pollution emissions. (2)

Israeli Vehicle Emissions

Motor vehicles are a major source of air pollution in Israel, accounting for over 90 percent of Carbon Monoxide pollution nationally, and roughly 40 percent of pollution from [NO.sub.x]. (3) In the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area, it is estimated that vehicle traffic accounts for nearly 40 percent of pollution from PM10s, small particles of pollutants that are one of the most health-damaging forms of pollution. Such vehicle particulate emissions are estimated to cause about 293 premature deaths annually from cancers and lung disease. Electric power generation accounts for about 47 percent of PM10 emissions in the city, and natural causes (sand and dust) account for most of the remainder. (4)

On a national level, serious questions remain as to the true contribution of vehicle emissions to total air pollution across Israel, as well as to emissions trends over the past five years--when new technology has presumably begun to lower per vehicle emissions, but travel has also grown exponentially. The problem lies in a history of inadequate government monitoring of vehicle emissions and industrial air pollutants, as well as inadequate research and reporting of available data from government ministries to the Central Bureau of Statistics--whose data is therefore, unavoidably obsolete. Estimates of vehicle and industrial emission trends, of necessity, must often be extrapolated from tests done abroad, which do not always reflect Israeli conditions. In addition, no mechanism exists for quantifying pollution generated in Israel by (generally aging) Palestinian vehicles, or emissions from idling vehicles. The result is that independent research, based on a recent study sponsored by the Ministry of Environ ment, yields figures for recent emissions that vary from official CBS statistics, as seen below. (5)

Figure 1: Trends in Motor Vehicle Emissions

The planners of the Trans Israel Highway, parts of which are currently under construction (1998), projected a 266 percent increase in private car travel between 1992 and the year 2020; a 207 percent increase in truck traffic, and a 153 percent increase in bus kilometers traveled. Those trends may even be an underestimate since between 1992 and 1997 the rate of traffic growth reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics exceeded that projected by the planners of the Trans Israel Highway. (6) Considering the trends of the 1990s, as well as the Trans Israel Highway projections for vehicle travel over the next two decades, Ginsberg anticipates that emissions of Oxides of Nitrogen and Particulates will begin rising after the year 2000. Particulates will increase by 45 percent by the year 2020, while Oxides of Nitrogen will increase by 187 percent. The rise in these emissions will be due primarily to the greater reliance on diesel fuels for small trucks and commercial vehicles.

These increases in pollution are projected to occur despite anticipated technological improvements in diesel vehicle air pollution controls. (8) In particular, it should be noted that catalytic converters cannot be affixed to diesel vehicles, which are by far the biggest generators of dangerous PM10s. Moreover, even the most advanced auto emissions controls deteriorate with age and lack of motor maintenance--which in Israelis less strictly regulated than in Europe. (9)

Emissions and Air Pollution: International Comparisons

Israel's transport emissions, per capita, are roughly on a par with those in small European states such as Denmark and the Netherlands. But because Israel is one-half the size of these states, transport emissions, per square kilometer, are more concentrated, particularly in populated areas. (10) See Figure 2 on the next page.

Figure 2: Annual Emissions of Nitrogen Oxides and of Carbon Monoxide

Due primarily to transport emissions, the air in Israel's central region is already moderately to severely polluted, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) definitions. (11) In Figure 3, we present for comparison the maximum recorded 1991 ozone pollution levels in selected Israeli cities with their American counterparts, and the EPA definition of pollution severity. (12)

Figure 3: Maximum Ozone Levels

It should be noted that ozone is a "secondary" pollutant that develops as the primary pollutants ([NO.sub.x], hydrocarbons) emitted by vehicles and power stations are broken down by sunlight. As a result, large concentrations of ozone can often be found in relatively "green" areas hundreds of kilometers from their original source. Thus, Ceasarea registered high ozone levels when pollution from the Haifa-Acre area drifted out over the ocean and then returned to the Mediterranean sea coast with the winds. More commonly, westerly winds carry Tel Aviv area pollution east to the Judean hills, Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. (13)

Health Effects of Transport Pollution

The most dangerous pollution generated by vehicles--in health terms--are particulates. Emitted mostly by diesel vehicles, particulates are closely associated with higher rates of premature death, as well as lung disease in adults and children. Small particles, of 10 micrometers or less in diameter--commonly referred to as PM10s--are the major culprits. They trigger respiratory illness, cardiovascular malfunctions and cancers by penetrating deep into the lung tissues, embedded with carcinogenic compounds like benzene. In several dozen recent U.S. and European studies, beginning with a landmark 1993 study of premature mortality in six U.S. cities, published in the New England Journal of Medicine , a direct relationship was found between PM10 pollution and higher rates of premature death: premature death rates were 26 percent higher in cities with the highest PM10 rates. (14) High PM10 rates have also been related to acute respiratory hospital admissions in children, school 15 absences, and increased med ication use in children and adults with asthma. (15) Because of the close association between PM10 pollution and premature mortality, methodologies have now been devised for estimating the number of premature deaths in a given city or region, based on the ambient air levels of PM10s. (16)

As the graph below shows, PM10 levels in Israel's two largest cities are as high, or even higher than levels in some of the most polluted cities in the United States, and thus constitute a major health problem in Israel. (17) In Tel Aviv-Jaffa, vehicles account for about 37 percent of total PM10 pollution (29 percent is from trucks and buses). PM10 pollution from vehicles causes an estimated 293 premature deaths annually among the 380,000 residents of the city. (18) Reducing diesel emissions, particularly in urban areas, should clearly be a priority for public health professionals as well as transportation planners, who have so far ignored the problems of diesel.

While cleaner gasoline and diesel vehicle technology appear to have brought about a temporary decline in PM10 emissions, the rapid increase in truck traffic, and particularly the massive shift underway from small gasoline-powered commercial trucks and vans to diesel models, will reverse that trend by the year 2000. As noted previously, deadly PM10 emissions are expected to increase between 2000 and 2020 by as much as 45 percent even as diesel technologies become cleaner. (19) This projection assumes that only a moderate share of the automobile fleet would shift to diesel vehicles--10 percent by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020. Shifts from gasoline to diesel cars already are apparent in major Israeli sectors such as taxis, where 95 percent of today's fleet is now diesel. (20) It is crucial, therefore, that diesel traffic be curbed and "greener" fuels be advanced for trucks and buses immediately, in order to reduce the health hazards from diesel emissions. (21)

In Israel, as in Europe, the transfer from gasoline to diesel has been facilitated by government policies that price diesel fuel well below that of gasoline--although in Israel, vehicle purchase taxes remain higher. In Great Britain, a country with a poor track record on sustainable transport policy, new diesel car sales are already 20 percent of total car sales--prompting this caution from the British Department of the Environment: "Any increase in the proportion of diesel vehicles in our urban streets is to be viewed with considerable concern, unless problems of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides emissions are effectively addressed." (22)


Pollution from Road Versus Pollution from Rail Transport

To measure the net pollution emissions from road and rail vehicles carrying different sized loads and different numbers of people, comparisons are usually made in terms of "passenger kilometers" or "ton kilometers," i.e. the cost of carrying one person, or one ton of freight, a distance of one kilometer. As seen in the graph on the next page, rail emits fewer pollutants per kilometer traveled by every passenger than either cars or buses. (26) In addition...

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