Diesel Fumes Mean
Cancer For Thousands
Of Americans
By Cat Lazaroff
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 health risk.
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 controls."
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 equipment.
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 Edward Murphy.
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 standpoint."
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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