New Study: Ethanol Bad for Health and Environment

A new study appearing in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology April 18 finds ethanol a health hazard that would likely increase the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations. Ethanol is touted as a “green” alternative to gasoline, but the author of the study, Mark Jacobson, says, “It's not green in terms of air pollution.” Jacobson is a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford University, who studied atmospheric conditions in 2020 if all vehicles ran on ethanol.

The study found that E85 reduces atmospheric levels of two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, but increases two others—formaldehyde and acetaldehyde—indicating cancer rates similar to gasoline. However, E85 significantly increases ozone, a prime ingredient in smog. This would increase ozone-related mortalities by about 4 percent in the United States and 9 percent in Los Angeles.

The study noted the deleterious health effects of E85 will be the same, whether the ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products.

The new study simply confirms the results of previous studies on this subject. See our posting of September 2006 on “Ethanol Damage” for similar conclusions from studies by the National Academy of Science, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Research Council. For more, see also our book MAKERS AND TAKERS, available from American Liberty Publishers.

Furthermore, studies indicate that ethanol is a net energy loser as well as a financial loser. Our previous postings (Jan. 24, '07, Feb. 2, '06, Aug. 8, '05) have discussed the fact that the production of ethanol (planting corn, harvesting it, distilling the alcohol, etc.) requires more energy that can be obtained by burning the ethanol. But ethanol is a financial loser as well. A gallon of U.S. corn-based ethanol costs about $1.90, wholesale, even after a 51 cent per gallon federal subsidy. But Brazil produces ethanol from sugar cane at $1.75 a gallon—including transportation from Brazil and a 54 cents per gallon import tariff imposed by the U.S. government. Brazil has more hours of daylight, warmer temperatures, lower labor costs, doesn't need the extensive fertilizers of corn; and the alcohol can be extracted more efficiently from sugar cane than from corn. (Cutting back fertilizers for U.S. corn is counterproductive because the yields would be reduced too much.) No wonder Brazil exported well over 400 million gallons of ethanol to the U.S. in 2006, compared to only 31 million gallons in 2005. Jamaica, the Netherlands, China and even Pakistan find it economic to ship ethanol to the U.S. Total U.S. imports of ethanol more than quadrupled last year, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

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