- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS)
- More than 125,000 Americans may get cancer from breathing diesel fumes
from buses, trucks and other diesel engines, says a new analysis by state
and local clean air regulators. The officials are calling on the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, which is planning to release new restrictions on sulfur
in diesel fuel within two months, to take strong action to address this
- Diesel vehicles are among the prime sources of the pollution
that leads to smog (Two photos courtesy EPA) The analysis, by the State
and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and Association of
Local Air Pollution Control Officials (STAPPA and ALAPCO), comes as the
oil industry seeks to kill a proposed EPA plan to clean up diesel buses,
trucks and diesel fuel. The EPA proposal is still under review by the White
House Office of Management and Budget.
- Calling diesel emissions an important health hazard,
the EPA has announced it will release a new rule by the end of April requiring
sharp cuts in the amount of sulfur allowed in diesel fuel.
- Diesel engines are significant contributors to air pollution.
The hazardous mixture that comprises diesel exhaust contains hundreds of
different chemical compounds that wreak havoc on air quality, playing a
role in ozone formation, particulate matter, regional haze and acid rain.
- Diesel exhaust contains more than 40 chemicals that are
listed by the EPA as toxic air contaminants, known or probably human carcinogens,
reproductive toxins or endocrine disrupters.
- Vehicle exhaust also contributes to acid rain, and can
lead to illness in humans "There is no pollution more disgusting than
the thick, noxious, suffocating smoke that billows from trucks and buses,"
said Becker. "But even worse, these fumes are putting us at risk of
cancer - a risk that can be almost completely eliminated with modern pollution
- Last fall, the South Coast Air Quality Management District,
which sets air standards for the Los Angeles, California region, released
a report analyzing the cancer risk in the region from exposure to diesel
particulates. The agency concluded that mobile sources are responsible
for about 90 percent of the cancer risk in the area, and that 70 percent
of the total cancer risk is attributable to diesel particulates.
- That study prompted STAPPA and ALAPCO - the national
associations of state and local air quality control officers in the states
and territories and more than 165 metropolitan areas across the country
- to extend the evaluation to other cities nationwide.
- Among their results: Over a lifetime of exposure to diesel
fumes, an estimated 119,570 people in metropolitan areas, and an additional
5,540 in suburban and rural areas, will develop cancer. Large cities, including
Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, Illinois, could see thousands of
cancer cases each.
- STAPPA and ALAPCO want the EPA to require trucks to operate
as cleanly as current laws mandate (Photo courtesy Daimler Chrysler Corp.)
STAPPA and ALAPCO have joined major health and environmental groups in
urging EPA to issue tough new diesel standards. Among their recommendations,
the groups said EPA should set an extremely strict national limit on the
amount of sulfur in diesel fuel - capping sulfur at less than 15 parts
per million - by no later than mid-2006. The groups also want an intermediate
cap of 30 parts per million to take effect by 2004.
- The EPA has not yet released any specific numbers that
will be included in its new sulfur rule.
- Sulfur is a poison for diesel pollution control devices,
much as lead was a poison to catalytic converters in the 1970s. The groups
noted that California recently set a diesel sulfur cap of 15 parts per
million for urban buses that continue to use diesel fuel. The groups said
the national standards should apply not only to truck and bus fuel, but
also to fuel used in "nonroad" diesel engines, such as construction
- Oil refiners warn that the technology does not yet exist
to produce fuel clean enough to meet the groups, requirements. Developing
such fuel would be prohibitively expensive and could drive some refiners
out of business, warned the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade
group. But API and other groups have volunteered to reduce sulfur by 90
percent from its current cap of 500 parts per million, bringing the sulfur
content of diesel down to 50 parts per million. That reduction could add
five or six cents to the price of a gallon of diesel fuel, said API spokesperson
- Oil refiners say dramatic cuts in sulfur could prove
prohibitively costly (Photo courtesy North Atlantic Co.) Officials from
the National Petrochemical Refiners Association (NPRA) and Petroleum Marketers
Association of America sent a letter Tuesday to EPA Administrator Carol
Browner warning that sharp sulfur reductions could result in dramatic cost
increases and an unreliable supply of diesel fuel and related products.
- "EPA's proposal for diesel sulfur is likely to reduce
the supply of diesel fuel as well as heating oil and even gasoline,"
the letter said. "It is our understanding that the EPA proposal calls
for a reduction of the onroad diesel sulfur cap from 500 parts per million
(ppm) to 15 ppm in 2006. The proposed cap and timeframe are in excess of
what is feasible or advisable from either an energy supply or environmental
- STAPPA and ALAPCO also want the EPA to set tough standards
for diesel soot and smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions from new trucks
and buses by 2007. Emissions could be reduced by at least 90 percent through
use of low-sulfur fuel and advanced exhaust emission controls, they noted.
- STAPPA and ALAPCO want emissions reductions for construction
equipment as well (Photo courtesy Nebraska Machinery Co.) Equivalent emission
standards should be set for construction equipment and other big nonroad
diesel engines, the groups advised.
- Big diesel trucks, buses and nonroad engines should be
required to operate as cleanly in use as they are supposed to, the groups
said. The groups noted that for more than a decade, seven of the biggest
diesel engine makers installed illegal "cheater" devices on well
over a million trucks, allowing them to pollute more on the road than in
pre-sale tests. These same engine makers are now trying to weaken the Consent
Decrees that were reached last year with EPA and the Justice Department
to settle these environmental violations.
- The Clinton administration is taking actions to reduce
pollution from trucks and other large vehicles. The Department of Energy
(DOE) announced earlier this month it will partner with the heavy duty
vehicle industry in a $30 million to $50 million research project to develop
cleaner and more fuel efficient trucks. Over the next five years, the joint
research effort will help researchers develop more energy efficient trucks,
ranging from pickup trucks/sport utility vehicles to eighteen wheelers.
Seven teams from the industry will join the DOE to develop clean energy
technologies that will make trucks cleaner, more fuel efficient, and promote
the use of alternative fuels.
- "The research partnerships between the federal government
and the private sector are critical to reducing America's reliance on imported
oil, maintaining economic viability of our industries, and improving air
quality," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "With projections
indicating that trucks will use twice as much fuel as cars by 2020, it
is critical that we look to improve fuel efficiency and clean energy technologies."
- About $5 million will be awarded this fiscal year. Three
teams will develop hybrid propulsion systems utilizing a natural gas engine
with an electric powertrain for buses and urban duty trucks, such as delivery
vans and heavy-duty vehicles. The teams will match DOE funding dollar for
dollar. Four other research teams from industry will develop advanced components
to reduce the fuel consumption and emissions from truck diesel engines.
Because these projects are considered more risky, these teams will spend
$3 for every dollar granted by DOE.
- Becker noted that dozens of human epidemiological studies
have found a link between diesel soot and lung cancer. STAPPA/ALAPCO's
nationwide cancer projection "is an extremely conservative figure,"
using a method similar to that used by regulators in California to estimate
diesel-related cancers there, he noted.
- "In fact, the actual number of cancers could easily
be ten times higher," Becker said, adding that "the important
thing to keep in mind is that we are facing a cancer risk - a risk we cannot
avoid unless EPA takes decisive action."
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