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Home Technology Airplanes Airplane Exhaust: Harmful Inside and Out by CityTech blogger Viki Bailey

Airplane Exhaust: Harmful Inside and Out by CityTech blogger Viki Bailey

Studies say that any type of toxic pollutant kills thousands. We know that airplane crashes kill people but what about airplane releases of exhaust? Emissions from planes flying above 3,000 feet can have as harmful exhaust as it does landing. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that jet engine exhaust endangers public health by contributing to climate change, and that large commercial jets account for 11% of all emissions from the global transportation sector. Aircraft emissions are expected to grow by 50% by 2050 as more and more people travel by air. Under the Clean Air Act the EPA has worked on imposing limits on aircraft emissions. Jet engine exhaust throws off greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, warming the atmosphere and trapping heat from the sun, which drives climate change. Those toxic exhaust emissions also threaten our health. Steven Barrett, an aeronautical engineer of the Cambridge Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says airplane exhaust contains sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides just like automobiles. Researchers have theorized that airplane pollutants can change a person’s DNA in as little as three days. Particulate matter may include tiny bits of dust, metal, or soot in the air which can lodge deep in the human lungs. Many of these particles of pollution are tiny, maybe about a hundred millionths of an inches wide, but can affect human health and enter the bloodstream. There are about 8,000 deaths a year from airplane pollution. The main cause of air pollutant deaths is cardiovascular, namely lung cancer and respiratory diseases. No one even considers the toxic pollutants airplanes release. How do airplanes pollutants affect human health? The plane flies at cruising altitude, then wind whisks the pollutants from the sky to the Earth’s ground level. Airplane emissions cause about 40 deaths each year which is information I don’t think frequent flyers know about. The air pollutants should not just be blamed on automobile and factories. Airplanes are also a part of the list of noxious releases into the air. Quoted from Mr. Barrett:  “Regulators need to explicitly consider the impact of cruise emissions on human health.” These findings may someday cause the industry to rebuild airplanes to diminish the contaminants that are released due to flying.


But scientists and engineers are working towards a 10% cut in emissions by 2022; British budget airline easyJet has just announced that it could be flying electric passenger jets on short-haul routes within a decade by using more fuel-efficient jets, such as the new Airbus A320neo.

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One Response

  1. Emma

    You bring up some interesting and important points about airplane emissions. News articles and publications seem to have been focusing more on airplanes’ emissions’ effects on the climate than on people, but it is critical to understand and mitigate both types of effects. One of the most effective ways to reduce airplane emissions would be to simply fly fewer planes; if we were to fly less, then fewer planes would have to fly. However, in an increasingly globalizing world in which travel over large distances is an integral part of many jobs and a goal of many people who want to experience different parts of the world, how are we going to encourage people to travel less without drastically changing these jobs or travel dreams? Is there a more sustainable way of traveling oceans in a reasonable amount of time?

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