February 24, 2005

Diesel exhaust blamed for deaths

Washington, D.C. – Emissions from old diesel engines cause over 20,000 Americans to die each year sooner than they would have otherwise, reports the Boston-based environmental group Clean Air Task. But an industry group criticized the findings as outdated and misleading.

Clean Air Task reported that the metropolitan areas with the highest number of deaths were New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The study included surrounding suburbs, so New York’s estimated total of 2,729 deaths included parts of New Jersey and Connecticut. State-wide, the highest figures were New York with 2,332, California with 1,784, and Pennsylvania with 1,170.

The group said it based its figures on the most recent government emissions data from 1999, and from public health studies on the effects of various types of air pollutants.

Report co-author and Task advocacy director Conrad Schneider said regulations to make new diesel engines cleaner do not affect millions of older trucks, buses and construction vehicles. “Those are great rules (but) in the meantime, we’re stuck with a legacy of dirty diesel engines.”

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency required nitrogen oxides be cut in half on new diesel engines in trucks and buses. Emissions are to be cut further in 2007. Since many older engines can run for 30 years, Clean Air Task says more action is needed by federal, state and local governments to retrofit existing diesels to run more cleanly. Retrofits for a typical bus can cost US$5,000 to $7,000.

But Allan Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a Washington-based industry group, criticized the report’s conclusions. “I think they have overstated the risk here, using data that’s six years old,” he said.

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