Just thinking out loud here, but you’ve got at least three problems with car racing as related to environmental health: gas usage in the races themselves, the use of leaded gasoline, and the hundreds of thousands of cars that drive to the races.
Doing a full calculation of the environmental cost of NASCAR (number of cars per race, number of miles per race, number of miles per practice run, number of races per week, number per season, number of fans driving to the races, number of beer cans thrown out the window) is beyond me.
So, just as a question, how much would the elimination of auto racing as a sport help with carbon emissions and associated problems? Any of our 17 weekly readers care to help out with some stats?
Some folks have thought about it, though I can’t vouch for the strength of their cases.
Here’s one article, by Charles W. Schmidt, who writes in Environmental Health Perspectives about the relationship of sport and environment. Called, “Putting the Earth in Play: Environmental Awareness and Sport” (full citation: Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 114, Number 5, May 2006), Schmidt notes the following:
Although the EPA phased leaded gas out of the consumer market more than 30 years ago, its use in stock cars has gone on with the agency’s blessing–an exemption was written into the Clean Air Act. Lead lubricates engines, helping them run smoothly, but it’s also a neurotoxicant that can lower IQ, particularly among young children. In December 2005, a draft EPA document titled Air Quality Criteria for Lead stated that leaded fuel may pose a serious risk to residents living in the vicinity of racetracks, fuel attendants, racing crew and staff, and spectators.
In a pilot study published in the February 2006 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, Joseph O’Neil of the Indiana University School of Medicine and colleagues found elevated blood lead levels among some mechanics and crew members of a NASCAR race team. Specifically, the median blood lead level in 47 tested individuals was 9.4 micrograms per deciliter, which approaches the EPA’s own risk threshold of 10 micrograms per deciliter, over which toxic effects can be expected. Nineteen of those individuals had blood levels at the EPA threshold.
For years, the EPA has urged NASCAR to quit leaded gas voluntarily. The industry claimed it was trying to find replacements, but also insisted the ones that were available lowered performance and harmed engines. But in January 2006, under pressure from Clean Air Watch, a Washington, DC-based environmental group, NASCAR finally relented. The industry will begin using a lead-free fuel made by Sunoco called 260 GTX by 2008.
And I am shocked, shocked!, to find this article at Fox News, written by the Junkscience.com guy, that says “eco-harassment ” shouldn’t stop NASCAR from using unleaded gas.
An article at emagazine says that “At race speeds, NEXTEL Cup cars get 2 to 5 miles per gallon.” The same article does a rough calculation (which the vaunted wikipedia says is disputed) to puts “NASCAR’s total fuel consumption across all series at 2 million US gallons (7.57 million liters) of gas for one season.”
Another fun fact (from the emagazine article): “”New Hampshire toll roads chalked up some 2,570,347 vehicles for one August week of the Winston Cup races in 2003.”
Fear not, though — ethanol will save us (here), Sonoco’s got that covered, GM is working on the problem of fuel efficiency (here), and Indy and NASCAR are both touting their eco-friendliness (here). What? What? You’re skeptical too?