Traffic pollution is far mare dangerous to human health than previously thought, according to new research.
Melbourne Climate Futures research shows that health impacts from vehicle emissions may cause 11,105 premature deaths in Australian adults per year and more than 12,000 cardiovascular hospitalisations each year.
In comparison, there were 1,208 road deaths in Australia for the 12 months ending January 2023.
The research suggests current figures used by policy makers may be incorrect, with none estimating more than 2,000 premature deaths are caused by vehicle emissions per year in Australia.
The Grattan Institute estimates exhaust-pipe pollutants from trucks kill more than 400 Australians every year.
The Grattan Institute's transport and cities program director Marion Terril told ACM air pollution was deadly.
"It always seems that the damage is worse than we thought it was before. So I think there's there's ample reason for concern, regardless of what the exact number is, of the deaths and health harm that is caused by air pollution from trucks," she said.
Australia lags a decade behind European standards for fuel quality and vehicle emissions and is the only OECD country without new vehicle carbon dioxide standards.
Those chronically exposed to traffic pollution were more likely to have asthma, respiratory infections, and even stunted lung growth and organ damage, according to the research.
Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, including in the womb. Air pollution is believed to increase the risk of low birth weight, childhood leukaemia, and other cancers, according to the research.
These health effects are caused by a mix of pollutants including fine particulate matter, which are tiny solid particles that can be inhaled and even enter the bloodstream, and nitrogen dioxide.
The City of Maribyrnong in Melbourne's west includes many major truck routes, and it has an adolescent asthma rate 50 per cent higher than the state average, according to the findings.
Maribyrnong's hospital admission rate is estimated to be more than 70 per cent higher than the Australian average for people aged three to 19, and the inner west has a higher incidence of lung cancer than the general Australian population, according to the Grattan report.
Williamstown road is one of the key arterial routes from the Port of Melbourne to the city and beyond.
President of Save Williamstown Road Graeme Hammond told ACM residents feared the health impacts associated with living next to a major truck route.
"My house is white, and I regularly have to go out and hose it with the high pressure water blaster to clean all the filth off it," Mr Hammond said.
"Muck and grime just builds up on the house. And you're just constantly aware that what's going on my house, is going in my lungs as well."
The Victorian government has forecast that when the West Gate Tunnel opens in 2024 or 2025, truck numbers on Williamstown Road will double.
Marion Terril was the lead author on The Grattan Institute's truck plan, released in 2022. The study argues state governments should introduce low-emission zones in Sydney and Melbourne, prohibiting highly-polluting vehicles from densely-populated areas.
Low emission zones have been widely implemented in Europe and the US.
"We don't have to invent this from the ground up. All we need to do is look overseas. It's a very common way for governments to deal with the toxic combination of polluting trucks and lots of people" Ms Terril said.
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Under this scheme, the oldest trucks would still be allowed to operate outside the city bounds, but businesses operating in the city would need to upgrade to cleaner trucks.
"The way I see it is if a factory was discharging bright pink toxic sludge into the Yarra river, it would be stopped immediately because it would be harming people and harming the environment.
"But these trucks are filling our air and our lungs with these toxic diesel particulates and nitrous oxide, and because it's invisible, the government's doing nothing," Mr Hammond said.
Although trucks are only three per cent of Australia's road vehicles, they create about a quarter of transport-related air pollution. Almost all trucks burn diesel, which does not burn as cleanly as petrol, and diesel engines typically emit more pollutants per kilometre than petrol engines.
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