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There Is No Escape From Toxic Diesel Exhaust

There Is No Escape From Toxic Diesel Exhaust

Environmental and Health Organizations Release New Study Documenting Commuters’ Exposure to Harmful Diesel Particles

AUSTIN – Fine particle pollutants released from the exhaust of diesel-powered vehicles pose a major health risk to commuters in Austin and other cities across the nation, according to a new report released today by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and produced with assistance by Public Citizen’s Texas office.

CATF, a Boston-based environmental research group, investigated diesel exhaust levels during commutes in New York City, N.Y.; Boston, Mass.; Austin, Texas and Columbus, Ohio. In its study, CATF documented diesel particle levels four to eight times higher inside commuter cars, buses, and trains than in the ambient outdoor air in those cities. When compared to Boston and Columbus, Austin ranked highest during peak pollution levels for exposure to three of four primary diesel pollutants inside cars when compared to outdoor air levels.

According to the report, although people spend only 6 percent of their day on average commuting, that small amount of time amounts to 60 percent of daily exposure to harmful fine particles.

“The dramatic results of this study prove that commuters are being exposed to harmful levels of diesel particles on a regular daily basis. There is literally no escape from diesel exhaust in Texas cities,” said Beth O’Brien of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Fortunately, there are solutions available now that can drastically reduce this toxic exposure. Today, we call on the Texas Legislature to pass legislation to help clean up the diesel engines on our roads, as well as those in school buses that our children ride in every day.”

Public Citizen’s Texas office was joined today by Representative Hochberg of Houston, the American Lung Association of Texas and the Austin Asthma Coalition to call on the state Legislature to pass legislation protecting Texas commuters and children from toxic diesel exhaust.

“The Clean School Bus program (HB 1291) is designed to reduce school children’s exposure to diesel exhaust in and around diesel-fueled school buses,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, author of the bill. “In light of this report, it is clear that the benefits of cleaner running diesel school buses will benefit us all.” (Senator Kirk Watson of Austin also has a Clean School Bus program bill in the Texas Senate.)

Fine particle pollution, including diesel exhaust, can cause lung cancer, stroke, heart attack and infant death. It also triggers asthma attacks and a greater susceptibility to allergies. Health researchers estimate that fine particles are responsible for shortening the lives of at least 70,000 Americans each year.

“Asthma is a significant condition affecting more than 100,000 people in Travis County,” said Steve Conti, Respiratory Care Practitioner and Director of the Seton Asthma Center. “This CATF report, combined with legislation designed to reduce diesel particulate emissions, is a positive step toward reducing environmental hazards and improving the air for asthmatics and all of us who live and work in central Texas.”

Laura Chapman, program director for the American Lung Association of Texas, said, “It is vitally important that citizens address the issue of diesel particulate matter, its impact on air quality and its link to chronic disease. Lung diseases in particular are on the rise, and it is not merely tobacco use that is the sole causal factor. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer numbers continue to rise regardless of tobacco use trends, and it is clear that exposure to toxic air plays a role in lung disease and other negative health outcomes.”

“Our investigation demonstrated that you may be exposed to high levels of diesel particles whether you commute by car, bus, ferry, train or on foot near thoroughfares traveled by diesel vehicles,” said Bruce Hill, senior scientist for CATF and the study’s principal investigator. By contrast, Hill noted, pollution levels were negligible for commuters in and near vehicles equipped with modern pollution controls or those that run on lower-polluting fuels such as natural gas.

The groups called on the Texas Legislature to expand the Texas Emission Reduction Plan (TERP) to include a focus on reducing diesel particle emissions. TERP is the cost-effective state program used to clean up diesel engines in nonattainment areas, but currently it focuses only on reducing nitrogen oxide emissions that form ozone. The group also urged the Legislature to make sure the existing TERP funds are fully appropriated to the program.

“Texas has been a model state in developing the TERP program,” said Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Now it’s time to spend the money, refocus the effort on particulate matter and clean up our aged school buses.”

Public Citizen will be sharing these recommendations, as well as the findings of this study, with the state Senate Natural Resources Committee March 1, at 1 p.m. or upon the adjournment of the state Senate when Senator Averitt’s SB 12 on TERP is up for a hearing before the committee.

To read the report, click here

For information about diesel risk in specific communities, click here.