Diesel exhaust is one of the nation’s most pervasive sources of toxic air pollution. America’s 11 million diesels—buses, trucks, trains, ships, and construction equipment—emit pollutants that lead to 21,000 premature deaths each year and create a cancer risk that is seven times greater than the combined risk of all 181 other air toxics tracked by the EPA. Scientific studies link pollutants in diesel exhaust to a myriad of public health effects, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, and premature death. Exposure to diesel emissions is nearly inescapable, whether you are exposed during your commute, while you are at work, or in your neighborhood. Diesel pollution is also an Environmental Justice issue. Low-income people and people of color are two to three times more likely to be exposed to particulate pollution. Children and seniors are most vulnerable to the health effects of diesel pollution. Children can be exposed to high levels of diesel particles inside of buses, at bus stops, and outside of schools.
Boston Commuters Exposed to Diesel Pollution
Black carbon, a component of diesel pollution, is also one of the largest drivers of climate change. Black carbon is a form of particulate matter emitted by diesels (and other sources) that warms the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight and radiating heat into the air (like a blacktop road). It can also darken snow and ice, and directly accelerate melting. The United States has the highest per-capita emissions of black carbon in the world, with more than half coming from diesel engines.
While the U.S. EPA has mandated tighter emissions rules on new diesel engines, emissions from most of the current fleet of heavy-duty diesel vehicles remains uncontrolled. CATF’s advocacy focuses on cleaning up the existing fleet of diesel engines, which are expected to remain in operation for decades to come. The rate of turnover of the fleet to new, cleaner engines has been slowed by the recession as sales of new diesels have plummeted. As a result, older, dirtier diesels will be with us for longer than EPA expected. Indeed, many owners of big trucks are rebuilding the engines in their old trucks and thereby extending their useful lives by eight to 10 years. More years and more miles by older, dirtier trucks will mean more pollution.
There are a number of opportunities at the Federal level to continue to make progress cleaning up diesel pollution:
- Congressional support to fully fund the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) which provides the best opportunity for fast-acting diesel reduction measures, but which has lacked adequate funding since its original passage in 2005.
- A "Credit for Clunkers" Clean Truck Initiative combining a rule by EPA to reduce pollution from large trucks with financial incentives to assist with compliance.
- A provision in the federal Transportation Bill to help fund the installation of modern pollution controls on diesel engines in areas that violate PM2.5 ambient air quality standards.