Council introduces pollution reduction bill

By Sascha Brodsky

The streets of Lower Manhattan could soon get a little less smoggy.

At a City Council hearing last week, the Environmental Protection Agency urged the passage of a bill that would mandate the use of clean air technology for vehicles rebuilding the World Trade Center site. Under the proposed law, construction equipment Downtown, including the W.T.C. site, would have to use ultra low sulfur diesel fuel and special technology to reduce emissions.

“The combination of clean technology and clean fuels would dramatically reduce emissions on the order of 90 percent,” said Raymond Werner, the chief of the E.P.A.’s Air Programs Branch. “The E.P.A. very strongly supports this legislation. Diesel exhaust clearly poses a threat to public health.”

Diesel exhaust particles can exacerbate allergies, trigger asthma episodes and decrease lung function and could cause cancer with prolonged exposure, health officials have said.

A study last year by the American Lung Association of New York City found that the concentration of diesel emissions from construction trucks and backup generators in Lower Manhattan is “quite high.” The association also recommended that all equipment and vehicles running on diesel fuel be supplied with low-sulfur fuel to reduce the diesel emissions. New York City Transit currently runs all of its buses on low-sulfur fuel and is installing filters as well.

“E.P.A. applauds the city’s efforts to address diesel exhaust,” Werner told the council hearing. “E.P.A. has determined that diesel exhaust can cause lung damage and respiratory problems and can exacerbate asthma and existing allergies. Furthermore, long-term exposure to diesel exhaust is thought to increase the risk of lung cancer.

These effects are caused by the more than 40 hazardous air pollutants that are contained in diesel exhaust, one of which is fine particulate matter. Diesel engines are one of the largest sources of particulate matter, and non-road diesel engines are particularly high emitters of fine particulate matter.

Non-road diesel exhaust also contributes to poor air quality because it contains a high amount of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, which is a component of ground-level ozone — the key ingredient in smog. Nationally, non-road diesel engines account for 44 percent of mobile source particulate matter emissions and 12 percent of mobile source NOx emissions. However, non-road diesel engines account for a higher percentage of these pollutants in the New York metropolitan area, contributing 48 percent of particulate matter emissions and 25 percent of NOx from mobile sources.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson, one of the sponsors of the legislation, called for the passage of the bill, saying that diesel emissions Downtown “are a major threat to public health.”

Even without the local law, clean air technology is already in use Downtown. The City has signed an agreement with the developer Silverstein Properties and the work on 7 World Trade Center is being done using low sulfur fuels. And citywide, New York City Transit is the largest consumer of ultra-low sulfur diesel in the country, using about 40 million gallons per year in its transit bus operations.

“The 7 W.T.C. Diesel Emissions Reduction Project is a national model for demonstrating clean construction through the use of less polluting ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel and retrofits on off-road, heavy-duty diesel construction equipment,” a spokesperson for Silverstein said. “The W.T.C. Diesel Emission Reduction Project is the first public-private initiative in the New York construction market focused on reducing emissions from heavy-duty diesel construction equipment.”

Some see the environmentally friendly proposals for Lower Manhattan as a test bed for clean fuels throughout the country. In 2007, the E.P.A. will begin regulating non-road engines (i.e., not cars) to adhere to many of the same standards that are being proposed for the World Trade Center work.

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