Generator Fumes: A Silent Killer

Published by Dr Gigi on

Air pollution from diesel and gasoline exhaust emissions is an important public health concern. Living in a big city comes with high level of exposure to pollutants in the form of by-products of gas or diesel combustion from cars.

In Nigeria and other parts of Africa that depend heavily on petrol and diesel generators for electrical power, an individual living in such an environment has a far greater risk of exposure than an average city dweller elsewhere.

Exposure to these noxious gases from petrol and diesel generators, car exhaust, combustible engines, electrical power generators, chimneys and automated grinding mills, is associated with the risk of developing various kinds of cancer, respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis)  headache, fatigue, brain damage, heart disease and stroke.1

Diesel exhaust emissions: Exposure to diesel exhaust particles is very dangerous and cause a number of health issues. It is composed of thousands of toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), methanol, ethylene or formaldehyde, arsenic, benzene, naphthalene, pyrene, anthracene, some of which are known to cause cancer.

Health Implications Of Exposure To Generator Fumes


Carbon monoxide in generator fumes can lead to sudden death. Because the gas is odourless and colourless one may be unaware they are exposed to it, especially if they are asleep and may die from their sleep. Never face the nozzle of the exhaust pipe towards your room, a confined space and avoid sleeping in the garage with the car or generator running.

Lung disease 

As we inhale, the toxic gases and particles in exhaust fumes get into the lungs where they become deposited.They do not dissolve in body fluids, so they cross the lungs into the body resulting in inflammation, cell damage and DNA damage from oxidative stress.3

Diesel exhaust fumes exposure can cause asthma, worsens the symptoms and frequency of nasal allergies and asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung diseases.4

Cardiovascular Disease

Carbon monoxide a toxic gas, found in exhaust particles deprives the body of oxygen. It is like being suffocated while still breathing, because, the gas replaces oxygen in the blood and the body goes into systemic injury and damage.

The end effect includes heart disease, hypertension, blood vessel damage and blood clots, cancer, stroke and accelerated ageing.2,4

Cancer (Leukemia)

Benzene in exhaust fumes affect blood cell production in the bone marrow resulting in leukemia (a type of cancer of the white blood cells).5 This usually occurs after long term, subclinical exposure, especially in people whose occupation expose them to gasoline fumes.

Headache and Fatigue

The brain requires oxygen to function optimally. Carbon monoxide (CO) in exhaust fumes deprives the brain of oxygen and as a result, can cause brain damage. Earlier on in the exposure, the individual experiences headache but as time progresses and levels of CO increase, it may culminate in permanent brain damage.

Male Infertility

A recent study suggests that gasoline fumes can potentially alter the male testicular structure, consequently reducing sperm count and causing infertility.6

Note: Petrol pump workers are at increased risk of exposure to gasoline fumes due to their occupation. This exposure increases their chance of various types of cancer.7

Gases Produced By Petrol and Diesel Combustion

  • Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odourless and tasteless gas that is highly dangerous to the body. When in the blood, CO binds to hemoglobin (a protein in human red blood cells that carry oxygen) and prevents oxygen from getting to the tissues, as a result, body organs begin to shut down. Signs that you may have CO poisoning include lightheadedness, vision problems, dizziness, confusion, delirium and headache, in the early phase. With high exposure to about 1.27%, coma, seizures and death will result after a few minutes.
  • Benzene: Benzene, a hydrocarbon, is known to cause leukemia (a type of blood cancer).
  • Formaldehyde: Colourless, sharp smelling, flammable chemical capable of inducing burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat, cough and sneezing. Research shows that it may cause blood cancer (leukemia).8,9
  • Sulfur dioxide: Colourless gas with sharp offensive smell. It is highly irritating to the nose and throat causing intense bouts of sneezing, coughing, asthma; wheezing and shortness of breath.10

Effect on the Environment

Global warming is of great importance and is due to climate change. Of the major inducers of climate change are byproducts of fossil fuel engines which cause irreversible damage to the environment. Some of the gases released, lead to ozone layer breakdown causing global warming. The net effect is that plants and animal habitats are destroyed in the process.

Other Sources Of Toxic Gases

  • Open fires.
  • cooking with a charcoal or gas grill inside the home or other enclosure;
  • Using a propane camp stove inside the house.
  • Being near exhaust outlets.
  • Clogged chimneys or blocked heating exhaust vents.


  1. Avoid being in an enclosed space with the car running, open fire, or have the exhaust of  a petrol or diesel generator facing your room.
  2. Install smoke and gas leak detectors.
  3. ONLY use a generator outdoors, far away from open windows, doors, and vents.
  4. All generators including your neighbour’s must be at least 20 ft away from your home.

Dr Gigi

Dr Gigi is a medical doctor, an avid researcher and founder of HeLP. She is a healthy life enthusiast. She is passionate about finding better and healthier alternatives and helping to improve people's quality of life. She started Healthy Life Pantry (HeLP) with aims to provide simplified research based and proven health information, delivered by seasoned health care professionals.

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