Clean Air Technology Catches On

Pennsylvania has the seventh highest emissions of diesel soot nationwide. In addition, five Pennsylvania cities ranked in the top 30 of the America's most challenging places to live with asthma. Pittsburgh came in at number 19. Clean air advocates say reducing diesel emissions from trucks and buses could go a long to improving air quality in the state. The Allegheny Front's Lisa Ann Pinkerton explores some available technologies that trucking companies are only now starting to adopt.

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Pennsylvania has the seventh highest emissions of diesel soot nationwide. In addition, five Pennsylvania cities ranked in the top 30 of the America's most challenging places to live with asthma. Pittsburgh came in at number 19. Clean air advocates say reducing diesel emissions from trucks and buses could go a long to improving air quality in the state. The Allegheny Front's Lisa Ann Pinkerton explores some available technologies that trucking companies are only now starting to adopt.

FADE UP BUS NOISE

HILL: This is a diesel particle filter...

On a chilly winter morning, Dr. Bruce Hill is holding what looks like a silver soup can big enough for a giant. The cylinder is filled with tiny pipes about the size of straws that capture diesel exhaust.

HILL: And you can see on this end, this is the inlet end, it got lots of black soot on it.

Dr. Hill is a Senior Scientist at the Clean Air Task Force in Boston. He travels the country advocating for cleaner burning diesel engines. He says most people don't realize how much soot diesel trucks emit. So today he's showing a crowd 30 truck drivers and fleet managers with a hand held monitor. He moves back about 10 feet from an average school bus and it shows the fresh winter air contains very few particles, about 15 micro grams per cubic meter.

HILL: As we approach the bus with the monitor in my hand the fine particles start to shoot up. You can see their going up quite rapidly right now they're at 250, 350 and upwards of that, 400. So the levels at 20 times higher at the tire of the school bus, than they are 10 feet away.

Back in 2003, Hill was the first to discover diesel engines have two sources of pollution. The obvious one is the tailpipe, but he says a more subtle point of emissions comes from the crankcase, located in the engine.

HILL: The solution for both buses and commercial vehicles is to use a diesel particle filter and close off the crankcase. There's a device that costs about $500 plus installation. It reroutes those emissions through the exhaust system and the filter. The filter can take out close to 100% of everything.

Diesel trucks account for only about 6 percent of all vehicles on our nation's roads, but its estimated they're responsible for over half of highway vehicle soot and 25 percent of all smog causing pollution. That's according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. This is a problem, because these fine particulates can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Research shows that can cause inflammation, asthma and cardiovascular problems. In Allegheny County alone, the Pittsburgh based, Group Against Smog and Pollution says diesel emissions cause over 2,300 asthma attacks and 162 premature deaths every year.

But at a cost of between 4 and 8 thousand dollars, diesel particulate filters are not something private fleets can afford on their own. Kyle Grothwall manages diesel trucks for Boca Construction in Norwalk, OH.

GROTHWALL: In all honesty without the EPA's help it is cost prohibitive. Fortunately we have that organization to help us.

For 2008, Congress is offering nearly 50 million dollars for public and private fleets to install particulate filters on their trucks and buses. Steve Marquardt, of the US Environmental Protection Agency expects this kind of money to remain steady over the next few years. He says today is the time to take advantage of the funding. Because these dollars are only going to get more competitive as municipalities try to meet EPA Air Quality Standards by limiting diesel emissions.

Marquardt: So there are opportunities for fleets to get ahead of that game, do it on their own terms with their own choices and still get the emission reductions on a schedule that's necessity.

But business is still about profit and diesel particulate filters donǃÙt bring in additional customers or revenue. However, trucks idiling for long periods of time to keep drivers warm while they sleep in their cabs are costing companies profits, as diesel fuel costs go up. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says every year, trucks idle for over 22 million hours in Pennsylvania. This has anti idiling devices growing in populartiy. Matthew Caldwell of Cummins Bridgeway sells and services diesel trucks in Pennsylvania.

Caldwell 1: The more that the fuel keeps going up-if we're in the mid 3 dollar range which just a couple of years ago was half of that all of a sudden an auxiliary power unit, or APU, makes a lot more sense doesn't it?

Caldwell says an APU attaches to the side of a truck cab, and powers heaters and appliances. It sells for around $9 thousand dollars and Calwell says it consumes 80 percent less diesel fuel than an idling engine. For trucks just making daytime runs, an anti-idling timer might be a better and cheaper solution. Ed Woods handles emissions solutions for Caterpillar and says for about $250 dollars, an independent timer can shut off an engine after a designated length of time.

Woods: You still have the operator who is able to do their job, is maybe its powering a laptop-But the engine is shut off because its not needed. When you need it you turn it on and away you go.

These options are all voluntary measures trucking and bus companies can take to curb diesel fuel and its emissions. But by late summer of this year, they may not have a choice. A measure in front of the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board would ban idling of all commercial diesel vehicles for more than 5 minutes, except in specific circumstances. Several public hearings on the matter were held last month across the state, and Ron Ruman at the Department of Environmental Protection says, even the Motor Truck Association was in support of it.

RUMAN: They would much rather have a state wide regulation as apposed to municipal regulations which could be difficult for truckers to deal with.

Ruman says 14 other states across the country; including New York, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Texas and California already ban diesel truck idling. And Pennsylvania could be next. Salesman Caldwell says heÇ watching the developments closely.

Caldwell: I think PA might be more stringent that others. That in turn would hopefully mean more business.

And possibly cleaner air.

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Lisa Ann Pinkerton.