The Definition of Insanity Is...

Ethanol can replace the toxic compounds used to increase octane in gasoline, which are directly related to the harmful emissions identified in several studies.
By Pam Miller | September 20, 2016

I think most of us are familiar with the saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Well, sometimes I think that's just what we are doing when we see study after study from reputable universities or medical institutions that conclude vehicle exhaust is killing us.

What did they expect? We keep using petroleum-based fuels and we keep getting reports that people are dying from a range of ailments that clearly are linked to those fuels. We read the reports, shake our head, and go back to putting that same gasoline in our cars. And, we are not talking about itchy eyes or a runny nose from this pollution, but actual mortality—premature deaths.

The most recent validation of what we know to be true is a study released this summer in Los Angeles. This study, conducted by researchers from New York University and the American Thoracic Society, was peer reviewed and supported by the society's membership of 15,000 health care professionals. Their conclusions should be startling: More than 2,000 deaths in the L.A. metro area and nearby Riverside can directly be attributed to poor air quality, and, specifically, fine particles—harmful soot and chemical-laden specks of pollution that can lodge deep in the lungs. In addition to avoidable deaths, the report concludes that thousands of heart attacks, emergency room visits and other serious health issues, including a loss of work and productivity, could be avoided.

It may be tempting to dismiss this as a California problem and blame it on the well-chronicled traffic and population issues the state faces. But just a few months earlier, a nearly identical study about Boston traffic by Tufts University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Public Health came to a nearly identical conclusion. The linkage to vehicle exhaust and the fuels creating that exhaust expose residents to microscopic chemicals that include known and suspected carcinogens. 
The ill effect of auto exhaust knows no boundaries and this is a health crisis that affects all. It particularly is a debilitating issue for the young and the elderly.

However, the good news is that we finally are getting the medical community to clearly make the connection between fuels and health. A leading researcher on children’s health, Dr. Federica Perera, the director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, has publicly stated fossil fuel combustion and associated air pollution and CO2 emissions are the root cause of much of the ill health of children today. She went on to say that “the single most important action we can take for our children is to cure our addiction to fossil fuel.”

I could go on, citing study after study but the results would be the same and that would be ... insane. We in the ethanol industry need to remember our greatest strength, among many, is that we offer a clean, low-carbon source of octane. Ethanol can replace the toxic compounds used to increase octane in gasoline, which are directly related to the harmful emissions identified in these studies. 

Working with the Urban Air Initiative in recent years, I have come to understand the true dangers of the fuel we are exposed to every day. The dreaded BTX compounds (benzene, toluene and xylene) are classified as toxic aromatics and they are as scary as they sound. Their primary role is to provide octane but, as we are seeing, it comes with a price.

Ethanol, however, is a superior octane enhancer and is a healthier alternative to current practices. As with so many issues we face, the U.S. EPA will have a final say on the subject. It is charged with regulating fuel and has the ability to limit aromatics. It is up to us to create a sense of urgency for the EPA to do what needs to be done. These studies should be an ongoing wake-up call for the EPA to open the market for cleaner fuels such as higher ethanol blends.

Author: Pam Miller
Board Chair and Director of Industry and Investor Relations
Siouxland Ethanol