The Oregon Environmental Council is helping rid Oregon of the smoke, smell, and health risks of diesel exhaust.
Diesel Harms Human Health
Diesel-fueled engines emit more than 40 air toxics. A number are carcinogenic — such as arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, nickel and polycyclic hydrocarbons. It is estimated that more than 1,100 people in the Portland metro area [PDF] alone develop cancer from diesel emissions over a lifetime of exposure.
Other air toxics in diesel — such as toluene, lead, cadmium and mercury — are known to cause birth defects and reproductive problems. Diesel particulate matter (soot) triggers asthma and is linked to increased hospital admissions for respiratory and heart diseases. According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, 347,000 Oregonians suffer from asthma, including nearly 73,000 children.
Exposure to diesel exhaust is widespread in Oregon, with diesel particulate matter exceeding health benchmarks in 25 counties. Even in counties where ambient air concentrations meet health benchmarks, people live and work near concentrated sources of diesel exhaust (such as highways and construction sites) and are exposed to unsafe levels. Children, who breathe at twice the rate of adults, are particularly at risk from diesel pollution.
NASA research indicates that diesel soot is also a major contributor to global warming.
Oregonian Savannah Teller Brown has produced a video documentary on diesel pollution in Oregon and solutions to clean our air.
The Oregon Environmental Council’s 2003 report, The Dirt on Diesel [PDF: 1.6 MB], discusses health impacts and solutions in greater depth.
Across the state, Oregonians are exposed to dangerous levels of diesel exhaust. From diesel-powered big rigs to oil-fired home furnaces, the Oregon Environmental Council is helping Oregonians tackle the problem of diesel pollution.
Solutions to Diesel Pollution
Recent federal regulations are helping clean up both diesel fuel and diesel engines. However – because diesel engines last for over a million miles and are rebuilt multiple times – it will take approximately 30 years to realize the full benefits of the new EPA rules. For example, if we don’t take action now, half of all bulldozers purchased new in 1995 – before any emission controls for particulate matter in these engines existed – will still be operating without pollution controls in 2024.
The owners and operators of diesel engines can protect Oregonians’ health today by:
Burning cleaner fuels
Purchasing new, cleaner engines
Retrofitting older engines with pollution control equipment
Burning less fuel by reducing idling and properly maintaining engines
Thanks to legislation passed in 2007, state funding will soon be available to help retrofit, rebuild or replace older diesel engines.
Highlights of OEC's Work to Reduce Diesel Pollution
- Supporting legislation creating a fund to retrofit, rebuild or replace older diesel engines, including school buses.
- Promoting the use of cleaner-burning fuels in oil-fired home furnaces and reducing diesel emissions from other stationary diesel sources [PDF 1.8 MB], such as hospital, school and industrial boilers [PDF: 897 KB].
- Cleaning up construction equipment by promoting the use of cleaner-burning fuels and retrofits.
- Providing "It's Not Cool to Idle at School" kits to teachers and students interested in reducing emissions from school buses and parents’ vehicles.
- Promoting the use of cleaner-burning, American-made biodiesel.
- Hosting Biodiesel on the Farm workshops to educate farmers and ranchers about making and using biodiesel.