How Does Car Exhaust Affect Earth's Plants & Animals?

by Cat Rambo
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Stefan Redel/iStock/Getty Images

Driving a car produces exhaust, which is one of the biggest sources of pollution human cause in their daily lives. Car exhaust's many toxic components negatively affect the environment on several levels, both locally and globally.

What's in Car Exhaust?

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Car exhaust contains soot particles, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. All of these have dangerous effects on plants, animals and humans. The main dangerous hydrocarbons produced are benzene, which can cause cancer, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), which can appear in a variety of toxic forms.

Local Effects of Car Exhaust

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Car exhaust can have many negative effects on plants and animals. Benzene can cause cancer in animals and kills plants and aquatic life. Similarly, soot particles produced by car exhaust can impair breathing, damage lung tissue and cause cancer in animals, while making it impossible for plants to photosynthesize, convert light to energy.

Global Effects of Car Exhaust

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Car exhaust contains gases such as carbon dioxide that contribute to global climate change. Such gases trap heat in the atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect that contributes to the warming of the Earth's atmosphere, causing widespread climate change. Similarly, sulfur oxides and sulfates from car exhaust create acid rain.

Exhaust From Alternative Fuels

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Biodiesel fuel significantly reduces the amount of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and soot particles produced by exhaust, while removing sulfur oxides and sulfates altogether. Compressed natural gas and hydrogen power are two other fuels being explored that reduce car exhaust.

Efforts to Change Car Exhaust

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Efforts to reduce the negative effects of car exhaust include reducing the number of drivers by providing alternate transportation as well as improving the efficiency of vehicles. Electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles are being developed but are still problematic and expensive.

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