EXPLAINER: The harm that engine idling has on our health, our wallets and the planet

·3 min read

A few minutes can go a long way.

Recently, Niagara this Week reported a patchwork of idling laws across the region means in some municipalities the practice is banned, but in others, including Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln, it’s not.

Niagara this Week spoke with Prof. Bruce Newbold, chair of Clean Air Hamilton and a professor of geography at McMaster University, to see how bad idling is for our health, our environment, and our wallets.

HOW MUCH DO CANADIANS IDLE THEIR CARS?

The federal agency Natural Resources Canada (NRC) estimates Canadians idle their engines for six to eight minutes a day on average.

And it’s worse in winter, when Canadian drivers voluntarily idle for a combined total of over 75 million minutes a day, producing over five million kilograms of greenhouse gases.

SO, IT’S BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

In short, it is. Idling produces a host of atmospheric pollutants, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, which cause air pollution, or smog.

Carbon dioxide is probably the “biggest problem” caused by idling, said Newbold. It's a greenhouse gas and “contributes to climate change directly.”

IS IDLING BAD FOR OUR HEALTH?

Another emission generated by idling is ozone, which can have an impact on respiratory health, making respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis worse.

Emissions from cars also generate particle matter 2.5 (or PM 2.5), small particles that travel deep into our lungs. This could be diesel exhaust, suspended dirt and other materials which can be inhaled, causing irritation or respiratory health issues.

One of the hot spots for idling is outside schools, when parents pick up and drop off their children, and researchers have found that this can increase pollutants outside of classrooms.

A 2016 study by Matthew Adams found there were “notable air pollution increases around schools” in Hamilton. The study noticed that, whereas Hamilton’s average concentration of PM 2.5 was 7.48 micrograms per cubic centimetre (μg/m3), those concentrations rose by 3.45 μg/m3 at the drop-off locations.

The increase of atmospheric pollutants was seen right up to the front door of the school, and even in the playgrounds, although at lower levels.

The study found the increase resulted in “unhealthy concentrations” of pollutants at schools.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR WALLET?

As Newbold explains, you get “zero fuel economy” when you idle your car. And when gas prices are over $2 per litre, that’s going to take a toll on your personal finances.

The NRC found idling a car with a three-litre engine wastes one cup of fuel every 10 minutes, and that waste doubles for five-litre engines.

The agency estimates that if Canadians reduced their idling by three minutes every day, 630 million litres of fuel would be saved annually. If gas prices are $2 per litre, that’s the equivalent of $1.26 billion saved per year.

BUT I NEED TO HEAT UP MY CAR IN WINTER BEFORE I GET IN!

It’s true that in the deep Canadian winters it’s all too tempting to let your car sit in your driveway and warm up before you get in.

But, as Newbold explained, this is the least efficient method of heating up your car. The systems that heat up your car run more effectively when the car is being driven. Newbold recommends letting your car warm up for 30 seconds and then to start driving.

What’s more, the pollution control devices fitted in cars doesn’t properly kick in when it’s idling, only when you start driving normally do the devices start to work properly.

SO, WHAT CAN I DO?

Simply put, stopping idling is one of the small things Canadians can do to save their health, their wallets and the planet.

NRC recommends that, as a rule of thumb, you should turn off your engine if you’ll be stopped for more than 60 seconds.

Your lungs, your bank account and the planet will thank you for it.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting