Nothing says ‘sweet summer innocence’ like getting a cool treat from a stranger driving a van. However, such snacks might be harmful to kids, and we’re not talking about just the refined sugar here. Reporters from The Daily Mail in England took a bunch of emissions readings from ice cream trucks in England, and found that some produced staggeringly high amounts of black carbon, a pollutant known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular health problems, particularly in children.
Black carbon, often referred to as “soot,” is a major component of Diesel Particulate Matter, the solid substance that comes from diesel vehicle exhaust pipes. This substance tends to come out in tiny micrometer-sized particles that are easily inhaled, and have contributed to 40,000 premature deaths in the U.K. according to The Daily Mail. Black carbon is also known to cause cancer and increase the chance of asthma attacks in children.
When journalists went out and measured ice cream truck emissions using aethalometers they found dangerous levels of pollution being pumped out by several ice cream vans. Two aging ice-cream vans were spitting out “six times the level of black carbon that would be recorded on a busy day in London’s Oxford Street.”
One of the main issues with these ice cream trucks is the fact that they have to idle to keep their refrigerators functioning, meaning everyone standing in line is subject to diesel pollutants. The Mail says that families waiting to get ice cream from the two worst offenders tended to be exposed to 40 times more black carbon than what’s recommended by the World Health Organization.
The readings were so high that a leading expert in children’s health warned even a one-off exposure for ten minutes could cause serious problems for a youngster with existing breathing problems.
It’s worth noting that the worst offenders that The Daily Mail measured were older, and diesel emissions technology has come a long way in the last few decades. Plus, we don’t know how well these trucks had been maintained, so there are still a lot of unknowns, here. Still, if you’re in England, and you’ve got a craving for some ice cream, maybe stay away from the two mentioned in this study.