EPA Report Cites Diesel Fumes as Probable Cause of Cancer

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Hotline, Fall 2002

by David Fowler, GASP Board Member

Exhaust fumes from diesel engines on trucks, buses, and farm and construction equipment probably cause lung cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared in a report released in September 2002.

The report gave support to environmentalists’ demands for Federal requirements for lower-sulfur fuel and cleaner burning engines for diesel equipment. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman had promised to support stricter diesel rules, and in August, with White House approval, the agency specified new penalties against manufacturers who do not meet an October deadline for making cleaner-burning truck engines (see sidebar). The EPA also left in place a Clinton-era regulation that would establish tougher requirements on emissions from large trucks, as well as a rule that would virtually eliminate sulfur from diesel fuel.

In fact, EPA spokeswoman Steffanie Bell said that the agency also expects to publish a rule early next year dealing with off-road diesel-powered vehicles, which include farm tractors and construction equipment.

These actions offered some hope that the Bush administration’s recent efforts to ease pollution regulations for coal-burning plants might not imply an across-the-board slackening of federal efforts to improve the nation’s air quality.

The EPA’s 651-page report on the health impact of diesel emissions echoes conclusions of studies previously made by a variety of world health agencies and in California. It said that “persuasive evidence” exists that chronic inhalation of diesel emissions is a potential cancer hazard for humans. Other dangers to health include increases in asthma and other respiratory problems.

Emily Figdor of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group noted that the EPA report was issued just as the nation’s children were returning to schools, many in diesel-powered buses. She urged that they needed “stronger protection against the health impacts of diesel exhaust.”

Diesel pollution is one of GASP’s main focus areas this year in the GASPer Air Monitor Program at local schools. For more information about diesel pollution and our health, see Spring 2002 Hotline article, available online at http://www.gasp-pgh.org/hotline/spr02-3.html

Agency Sets Diesel Emissions Penalties

In August 2002, the EPA announced penalties which are designed to speed up the manufacturing of cleaner diesel engines. The penalties will apply to 2004 model diesel truck engines (in vehicles weighing over 8,500 pounds) that fail to meet strict new emissions standards. Additional diesel standards and test procedures are scheduled to start in 2007.

In addition, heavy duty gasoline engines will be required to meet new, more stringent standards beginning no later than the 2005 model year. The new standards require gasoline trucks to be 78 percent cleaner and diesel trucks to be more than 40 percent cleaner than today’s models.

The second phase of the program will require cleaner diesel fuels and even cleaner engines, and will reduce air pollution from trucks and buses by another 90 percent.

The rule is expected to cut emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides by 2.4 million tons each year, when the program is fully implemented in 2030.

This year’s decision will impact all manufacturers of diesel engines, but will be particularly hard on six manufacturers who signed a consent decree with the EPA in 1998, when they pledged to meet the new standards by October 2002. Some of those manufacturers have been lobbying the Bush administration to delay enforcement of that consent agreement. The EPA has now denied them an extension of the October 2002 deadline, and will enforce the new standards against the six manufacturers this year and against the rest of the industry with the 2004 model year.