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The Health Risks of Diesel Idling: Tami Biddle, Clean Air Board

The Health Risks of Diesel Idling (30 KB)

by Tami Biddle

Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania

October 2008

In recent years scientists have begun to understand a great deal about the effects of a type of air pollution referred to as “particulate matter.”  One type that is especially worrisome is called PM 2.5, meaning matter that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller in size.  This means, roughly, about one-thirtieth the size of a human hair.  The reason that PM 2.5 is dangerous is because the particles are small enough to penetrate into the deepest part of the lungs. And this, in turn, means that they are directly linked to asthma, bronchitis, and chronic respiratory illness.  Scientists have also linked PM 2.5 to low birth weight babies, heart disease, some cancers, and premature deaths in elderly people.

Children are more vulnerable to the health risks of PM 2.5 because their immune and respiratory systems are still developing. Also, children breathe up to 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults.  The breathing of fine particles by children is believed to cause both acute and chronic respiratory problems such as asthma.  Forty percent of all US asthma cases are in children, yet children make up only 25 percent of the US population.[1]

The sources of PM 2.5 include fuel combustion from automobiles, power plants, wood burning, and industrial processes.  But a major contributor to PM 2.5 levels is diesel powered vehicles such as trucks and buses. These fine particles are also formed in the atmosphere when gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides — all of which are also products of fuel combustion — are transformed in the air by chemical reactions.  Fine particles are attracted to water, thus contributing to acid rain.  Acid rain affects all things biological, and can have direct effects on human health.  For all these reasons, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an initiative to monitor and address fine particles in the atmosphere.

The seriousness of the heath risks posed by PM 2.5, and the special impact of particulate matter on children, has prompted many communities to start to address the problem in multiple ways.  One of the most important has been to encourage the limitation of idling by school buses.  Each year, over 21,000 school buses transport 1.5 million children to schools in Pennsylvania.[2] Restricting diesel idling would improve the health of Pennsylvania’s children, and the health of the drivers who transport them each day.

[1] Environmental Protection Agency   http://www.epa.gov/region4/sesd/pm25/p2.htm

[2] Clean Air Council   http://www.cleanair.org

Comments On DEP’s Proposed “Diesel Vehicle Idling; and Auxiliary Power Systems” Rule: Clean Air Council

Comments On DEP’s Proposed “Diesel Vehicle Idling; and Auxiliary Power Systems” Rule

Clean Air Council

January 12, 2008

38 Pa.B. 229

My name is Eric Cheung and I am the Senior Attorney for the Clean Air Council, a non-profit environmental group whose mission is to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthful air. In order to fulfill this mission the Council works on a core set of diverse programs: air pollution, sustainable transportation, renewable energy, waste and recycling, indoor air quality and children’s environmental health. The Council represents the interests of over 7,000 members across Pennsylvania and Delaware, who provide financial support.

Clean Air Council supports PADEP’s proposed statewide anti-idling rule for diesel engines. When evaluating strategies to provide energy cleanly – whether for transportation or electric power – the Council places conservation at the top of its list. The cleanest unit of energy is the one that is not consumed. On the transportation side shutting off truck or bus engines when the vehicle has stopped should be as commonplace a practice as turning off the light switch when leaving a room. Stopping unnecessary idling reduces air pollution, saves individuals money, minimizes global warming gas emissions, and improves energy security.

Clean Air Council has long been aware of the impact of heavy duty vehicle diesel emissions on the health of Pennsylvania residents and has participated in initiatives to reduce them. From organizing clean diesel conferences, to advocating for the increased use of alternative fuels to diesel, to lobbying Philadelphia’s regional transit authority to replace its buses with hybrid electric models. Recently, the Council completed an Air Quality Assessment Report for the Carlisle Area, with a special emphasis on the impact of diesel emissions from truck traffic and recommendations for addressing this problem. It also spearheaded a campaign to encourage Pennsylvania school districts to voluntarily limit their school bus idling. Since 2003 the Council has been the co-administrator of the Philadelphia Diesel Difference Working Group, which has worked with local truck and bus fleets to retrofit their diesel engines with pollution control technologies. As an expert on the impact of diesel emissions and long-standing advocate for their reduction, the Council is excited to see PADEP announce this rule.

Petroleum-based diesel fuel is a significant source of both ozone-forming NOx compounds and harmful fine particulates. Among all highway vehicles, diesel-powered trucks and buses contribute 44% of the NOx and 75% of the fine particulates. Both of these pollutants cause harmful respiratory symptoms, trigger asthma attacks and can lead to premature deaths. Both are of particular concern to the 1.5 million school children in Pennsylvania who are transported to schools every day primarily by diesel-powered buses. Ozone and fine particulates have a disproportionately greater impact on children, because their lungs are still developing and they can breathe up to 50 percent more air per body weight than adults. Diesel exhaust is also known to contain toxic air contaminants – over 40 have been identified. Anti-idling will reduce the combustion of the diesel fuel that results in these harmful emissions.

Seven counties in PA are not in attainment of the current federal ozone health standards and 21 counties do not meet the standards for fine particulate. With stronger standards for both pollutants coming, Pennsylvania can expect to see more of its counties to be in non-attainment. While the 2006 ultra low sulfur requirement certainly has had an impact on fine particulate emissions, more significant reductions can only occur with changes to the engines themselves. Moreover, desulfurized fuel does nothing for NOx compounds that form ozone. Given that the federal health standards are becoming more and more stringent, Pennsylvania will need to use every regulatory tool it can devise to ensure the State achieves compliance. Failure to do so could lead to sanctions under the Clean Air Act such as loss of highway funding. Anti-idling is a relatively uncomplicated tool that will help the state reach compliance of the federal health standards.

With the rising costs of fuel, the Council believes there is an economic incentive to reduce unnecessary idling that will make acceptance of this rule easier. Quite frankly, many drivers and fleet owners are less concerned with the impact their vehicles are having on the environment than they are with the impact transportation costs are having on their bottom line. Much of the unneeded idling is a result of driver habit, apathy and misinformation. Moreover, new technologies like electrified truck stops and auxiliary portable units resolve the cabin comfort reasons for idling. A statewide anti-idling rule may be just the catalyst needed to get heavy duty vehicle operators to do what is in their best interest anyway. The Council recommends a strong education effort coinciding with the roll-out of this rule to ensure maximum support.

Another benefit to Pennsylvania’s anti-idling law will be the synergistic ones it produces. Neighboring states like Maryland, New Jersey and New York have their own anti-idling requirements. The two largest metropolitan areas in Pennsylvania, Allegheny County and Philadelphia, also have anti-idling rules. Once Pennsylvania’s law goes into effect, it can only reinforce the ones already in place. Conversely, having drivers already familiar with similar laws in neighboring areas, makes it easier for compliance in Pennsylvania. As each jurisdictional authority acts to cut back on unwanted idling, more and more drivers will get the message and will simply practice idling reduction as a matter of course, regardless of where they are.

Other benefits of the anti-idling rule include a reduction in greenhouse gases and foreign oil dependency. Each gallon of diesel that is burned produces 22 pounds of carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming. Each gallon of petroleum diesel is most likely to have come from foreign oil sources like the Persian Gulf. Both the global environment and America’s energy security benefit as less diesel is burned as a result of this rule.

On a final note, the Council hopes that PADEP takes all the necessary steps to ensure enforcement of this rule. Philadelphia’s anti-idling ordinance has been in place for over 20 years and yet its effectiveness has been hampered due to a lack of enforcement resources. In order for this new rule to have an impact, it is essential that local enforcement agencies are educated about the rule and are willing to take on enforcement responsibilities. Furthermore, citizens should also be made aware of this rule and a number they can call to complain about idling should be established. The Council’s experience has been that governmental action can only be enhanced by community buy-in and support.

A rule that is better for the air and for people’s wallets seems like a no-brainer, so it is surprising that implementation of this rule would put Pennsylvania among a minority of states to pass such a requirement. It is not often that Pennsylvania is in a position to take a leading role among the states on an environmental initiative. This appears to be just such an opportunity and the Council hopes the State follows through.

Lastly, Clean Air Council would like to acknowledge and express gratitude for the Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania’s efforts in pushing for this rule. In a short time this burgeoning organization has established itself as one of the State’s more influential air quality advocates.

Eric Cheung, Esq.

More information about the Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act

Visit the Clean Air Board website for more information about the Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act:

  • Full text of the Senate Bill no. 295, Act 128
  • School District Responsibilities
  • Design Specifications for the No Idling Sign
  • FAQ

Additional Resources:

American Transportation Research Institute: Compendium of USA Idling Regulations

List of Idle Reduction Technologies for Sleeper Berth Trucks

Google Search: Auxiliary Power Systems

DEP: Idling Reduction Regulation Removes Toxins from Air, Saves Trucking Companies Millions

Stationary Idle Reduction Technology (Available at 11 locations across PA)

No Idle Law Takes Effect May 1: abc27 News Coverage

Watch: abc27 News coverage, No Idle Law Takes Effect May 1

ABC 27 Talkback:
Carlisle, Pa. – Starting Saturday, trucks and buses will no longer be allowed to idle anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania.

The “No-Idle” law prohibits drivers from running their engines for more than five minutes each hour while they’re parked. It’s all part of an effort to improve air quality in the Commonwealth.

Enforcement will be up to municipal and state police, as well as the Department of Environmental Protection. Fines for non-compliance start at around $300.

“It’s probably going to be failure to follow a traffic sign, but we’re really going to be asking the trucking companies to help out with this too,” said Fritzi Schreffler, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

PennDOT started posting signs in 2009, but the law gave truckers an exemption until May 1 so they could equip their vehicles with battery-powered heaters or generators.

What is the Diesel Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act? (PDF)

What is the Diesel Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act? (PDF)

Read the Clean Air Board’s presentation about the Diesel Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act. The presentation answers the following frequently asked questions:

What is the problem that the Act seeks to address?

What regulations to limit idling were proposed by the Clean Air Board?

What are the benefits?

What types of vehicles will be covered?

What is the general idling limit?

What are the exemptions?

Who is responsible, and who will enforce the Act?

What are the penalties for violation?

Diesel Idling and Act 124 Information: PA Department of Environmental Protection

The PA Department of Environmental Protection has posted a range of very helpful information about the Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act on their website.

The informational site includes several Q & A’s, Diesel Idling Information, Diesel Idling Signs, Local Regulations, how to file a complaint if you believe that a diesel-powered motor vehicle is idling illegally, and how to contact the DEP Bureau of Air Quality.

PennDOT: Design Specifications for No Idling Signs

Design Specifications for No Idling Signs (PDF)

The design specifications for the “No Idling” sign are posted on the PennDOT website. Look for publication 236 and nomenclature R7-100.

List of approved manufacturers (PDF)

The “No Idling” sign must be manufactured by a PennDOT approved sign manufacturer.