Diesel Pollution Threatens Neighborhoods - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2000 Juniper Berry Magazine

Diesel Pollution Threatens Neighborhoods

The Long Island Expressway entered our lives in the nineteen fifties and it changed forever how we lived and breathed. While the LIE certainly isn't the only culprit guilty of life altering implications it literally brings home the message of the total negative impact on our everyday lives caused by cars, trucks, buses, planes, etc.

Those of us old enough to remember "the way it was" know what I'm talking about; young people don't have a clue.

The change in our everyday lives was startling because there was the very obvious visual of the cars and trucks that started racing through once quiet residential communities. However, unless we are smokers or have the very serious medical afflictions of asthma or emphysema, many of us do not recognize the insidious effects that took place on our breathing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sure has and on June 19, 2000, it held its first hearing in the nation on its proposal to cut dramatically diesel pollution over the next decade. At future hearings, people are being urged to testify or, if you cannot, submit testimony that will be entered into the record.

On May 17th the EPA proposed new rules that will cut smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions by 95 percent and reduce soot that triggers asthma attacks by 90 percent, starting in 2007. In order to reach these goals the EPA is proposing to remove 97 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel.

Diesel emissions are unacceptably high and this has serious health impacts for all New Yorkers. Diesel soot has been linked with increased asthma attacks, cancer, heart disease and other serious health ailments. New York has approximately one million asthmatics, one of the nation's highest concentrations of the disease.

Roughly one-third of the smog-forming nitrogen oxides in the northeastern U.S. comes from a relatively small number of diesel engines. Removing sulfur from diesel fuel is as important to cleaning up trucks and buses as removing lead from gasoline was to cleaning up cars. Just as leaded gas was a barrier to cleaner cars in the 1970s (it poisoned catalytic converters); today's high sulfur diesel fuel is a barrier to cleaner trucks and buses today (because it disables diesel pollution-reducing equipment).

Environmental groups, public health organizations, environmental justice advocates, the nation's state and local pollution officials, some trucking interests and many others are supporting the EPA's action. Even the auto industry and the diesel engine manufacturers support this proposal because they recognize that low sulfur diesel make cleaner diesels possible.

Not surprisingly the oil industry is fighting this proposal because they don't want to spend money to clean up their dirty fuel. Ironically, the top ten U.S. oil companies reported over $11 billion in profits in the first quarter of this year alone, more than three times the estimated one time cost of compliance.

Today's diesel fumes are unnecessary and harmful to our health and they should be cleaned up. In New York smog sends more than 12,300 people to emergency rooms each year and causes more than 510,000 asthma attacks. To make the situation even more direr, a study by local air pollution control officials estimates that diesel exhaust is responsible for 125,000 cases of cancer yearly in the United States alone.

These are sobering statistics and you get the picture of the staggering medical problems caused by diesel pollution. Yet, despite these numbers the EPA has proposed waiting until 2010 to fully clean up smog-forming pollution from trucks and buses. That means ten more years of life threatening breathing conditions that will negatively effect everyone, young and old. This is totally unacceptable and it puts a real clear focus on the massive job ahead.

The EPA should not let the oil companies block one of the most important vehicle pollution proposals since the removal of lead from gasoline.

DIESEL TRUCKS ARE OVERWHELMING NYC

At a narrow piece of parkland along the Long Island Expressway service road in Queens, garbage tractor-trailers park overnight between hauls. They are part of a major shift in the way NYC handles garbage, instituted without any effort at comprehensive planning. It was not too many years ago that big rigs were not allowed to operate on NYC streets, but Washington did away with the "quirky" local rule at the request of the trucking industry. Over 1000 additional daily tractor-trailer trips have been added to NYC traffic by the trucking of garbage alone. A study by California's South Coast Air Quality Management District found that diesel emissions cause 71% of all cancers attributable to air toxins. NYS Department of Conservation estimates that over 4000 New Yorkers die prematurely because of particulate pollution.

Given the unpopularity of the Mayor's garbage ideas, it looks like the waste trucks might take the rap for an urban environmental problem that is bigger than their trucks alone. Recently, Manhattan's CB3 passed a resolution against long haul garbage trucks moving to the Jersey Tunnels, and most advocates are calling for the retro-fitting of existing garbage transfer stations to bring garbage off the roadways and onto the water as efficiently as it was done a few years ago.

RE-BUILDING RAIL

"Mobilizing the Region," an electronic newsletter published by Tri-state Transportation Campaign, reports that Hunts Point groups, including The Point Community Development Corp., are screaming for a stop, after proposals surfaced to put a third truck-to-rail garbage transfer station on a hoped-for park site. This area of the Bronx is one of a few NYC places where freight can move by rail to points west of NYC. To do so trains must travel past Albany because no river or harbor crossings exist to the south. Proposals to improve rail access to NYC usually have multi-billion dollar price tags.

CAN A BARGE-FERRY NETWORK HELP?

At the Red Hook Container Port, across from Icky Park, barges are loaded with containerized cargo for a trip across the harbor to New Jersey. The Port Authority subsidizes the operation in Red Hook, NYC's only container port. Can cargo move by water to stations around our region without subsidy? Baykeeper reports that high-speed catamarans that can handle up to 80 truckloads are being used between European ports and that Asian shipyards are being kept busy building more such vessels. In recent years, private ferry operators have discovered that they can move people around the harbor efficiently and without subsidy. New Yorkers are enjoying the new open-air transport, sometimes for recreational excursions. With three airports on the NY/NJ waterfronts providing passengers, and air containers providing more manageable

shipment sizes than the big ocean going containers, perhaps water transport for some cargo is not out of the question.

With efficient transfer to boats at airports, small fast cargo-ferry operations could probably take in more on a dollar per square-foot basis than the passenger trade, and build a system of additional routes for all users that are not presently economically feasible. Air cargo containers might be adapted for use in shipment of product to and from points all around our region.