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Diane Bailey’s Blog

EPA invests $30 million to reduce diesel pollution

Diane Bailey

Posted October 17, 2012 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment

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Last week EPA awarded $30 million in funding to diesel clean-up projects across the nation through the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA).  The program has invested in more than 500 diesel clean-up projects since it began in 2008, reducing hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollution and saving millions of gallons of fuel.   It is especially exciting to see these smart investments continue since DERA has seen threats to its funding in these lean economic times.

Why the focus on cleaning up diesel engines?  Diesel soot is a well known carcinogen.  Diesel exhaust also contains a slate of chemicals, some carcinogenic by themselves, others contributing to smog, many hazardous constituents and very fine soot particles.  Exposure to fine soot particles even at moderate levels can cause or contribute to serious health impacts including: 

  • Asthma, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, irritation of airways, difficulty breathing, pulmonary inflammation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and respiratory infections;
  • Heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, hardening and thickening of arteries, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease;
  • Strokes;
  • Low birth weight, premature birth, certain cardiovascular defects and infant mortality; and
  • Premature death due to cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness or infections and lung cancer.

New research also shows links between exposure to soot and additional health effects including diabetes, impaired cognitive functioning and oxidative damage to DNA.  Diesel soot is especially harmful because it is so small (typically less than one micron) that it lodges deep in our lungs, and also because it is highly reactive, coated with acids, metals and other toxic constituents.

As new, clean standards for diesel engines phase in over time, diesel pollution and the health effects associated with that pollution should go down.  But this will take decades without programs like DERA to speed up the replacement of the most polluting old engines, add exhaust controls and support cleaner low carbon new technology.  This year’s DERA grant awards are spread across many sectors, helping owners and operators replace, retrofit or repower older diesel engines found in marine vessels, port equipment, locomotives, construction and agriculture equipment, trucks and buses.

Two noteworthy projects that support advanced transportation technology were funded in Southern California:

  • With roughly $1 million from DERA, 50 dirty, old, medium-duty urban delivery diesel trucks will be replaced with fully electric delivery trucks. The project will focus on replacing trucks that operate in highly impacted communities in the greater Los Angeles metro area. The new vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, so the air quality benefits are significant, as are the fuel savings. The annual emission reductions for this project are 12 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx), 0.5 tons of particulate matter (PM), 1 ton of hydrocarbons, over 5 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), and 707 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • The City of Long Beach Harbor Department received $1.3 million to reduce diesel emissions by retrofitting and/or replacing sixteen pieces of port cargo handling equipment at the Port of Long Beach terminals including the replacement of yard tractors with zero-emission automated guided vehicles (AGV) that use battery cells and the exhaust retrofit of rubber tired gantry cranes. This project will reduce a total of 25 tons of NOx, 173 tons of CO, 33 tons of PM, and 733 tons of CO2.

It is exciting to see the development, proof of concept and greater utilization of zero emission freight technologies in Southern California, where freight activities are the most concentrated in the nation and residents have long subsidized the diesel-driven freight economy with their health.

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Adam pground tpcamp.jpgOctober is Children’s Health Month.  Follow these tips to minimize exposure to environmental pollution to protect the children you love and care for.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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