New Report Fuels Fight Over Tighter Diesel Emission Rules
March 15, 2000 (Washington) -- Clean air advocates today challenged the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dramatically increase the regulation
of diesel engines and fuel. They issued a report claiming that if today's level
of diesel exhaust continues, the pollution could be expected to cause more than
125,000 cases of lung cancer in 70 years, about the period of one lifetime.
"Resolving this national problem lies squarely on the shoulders of the
EPA," said William Becker, executive director of a national association of
local and state pollution control officials that released the report. Diesel
emissions, Becker tells WebMD, "are the most visible form of air
pollution." Even children, he adds, are well aware of how much noxious
waste trucks belch out every day along the highways. The advocates add that a
proposed EPA regulation may meet the proponents' standards. The proposal is
under review by White House officials -- and under attack by groups within the
petroleum industry as well as users like fuel stations, truck stops, and
The EPA has not formally reported on the human hazards of diesel emissions.
The control of diesel fuel is less stringent than the regulations governing
gasoline engines and their typical fuels. But the agency has become more
concerned over the health threats of diesel fuel because the U.S. is using more
of it, for many reasons. The number of diesel-powered sports utility vehicles
and light trucks is increasing, for example, and the strong economy and
construction boom have been fueling more use of "off-road" diesel
equipment such as tractors and bulldozers.
EPA spokeswoman Cathie Milbourn tells WebMD that the agency hasn't yet seen
the new report. But she says, "We are concerned about the cancer and
non-cancer health effects of diesel fuel exhaust."
Diesel emissions are a significant source of nitrogen oxides, which are a
big contributor to ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog. The
emissions also include numerous chemical compounds and small bits of material
that may contribute to developing cancer.
But the EPA may require reductions in the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel.
And engines may need to be able to absorb and filter harmful substances before
they become air pollutants.
The industry groups say that the EPA and air advocates seek cuts in sulfur
levels that are unrealistic. According to the American Petroleum Institute
(API), the reductions are "far beyond what is warranted to achieve
environmental goals, and may be technologically impossible."
Julie Rosenbaum, spokeswoman for the National Petrochemical & Refiners
Association, tells WebMD that the lower sulfur levels would increase the price
of diesel fuel and cause supply problems, as refineries shut down in order to
alter their equipment to comply with new standards. The association and its
allies back a less severe cut to sulfur levels that would be phased in more
slowly than that favored by the EPA and pollution control officials.