February 28, 2007 / 7:08 PM / 11 years ago

Diesel soot filters urged to protect U.S. commuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Filters should be placed on millions of old diesel engines to protect Americans who breathe large amounts of lung-and-heart-damaging soot particles during their daily commutes, according to a clean air group.

The Boston-based Clean Air Task Force report released on Wednesday said that up to 70,000 peoples’ lives in the United States are shortened by fine particulates.

Tiny soot particles from sources including diesel engines can cause lung cancer, asthma, and heart problems, according to peer-reviewed studies.

The CATR found that fine particulate levels in four U.S. cities were four to eight times higher along commuter routes than the average air quality in those cities.

It said filters can help improve the air quality. “The good news is that affordable technology is available today that can virtually eliminate commuter exposure to to diesel particles on the road,” the report said.

Since the beginning of the year, the U.S. government has required trucks fresh off the assembly line to add diesel particulate filters, which combined with recently required cleaner fuels, cut particulates by 90 percent compared to old engines.

But the CATR said 13 million engines on the road before this year still spew the particulates.

The diesel industry said the fuel makes up only a small part of the overall problem of fine particulates in the air. Allen Schaeffer, the director of the Washington-based Diesel Technology Forum, said diesel engines were the source of less than 5 percent of fine particulate levels in U.S. air.

He said filters can’t be put on all old diesel engines. “It’s not clear to us that that is permissible under the Clean Air Act, from a legal perspective, and in some cases, it’s not technically, nor economically feasible, to do so,” he said in an interview. “Some of the much older engines should be scrapped instead of putting filters on them.”

U.S. refiners have been required to make ultra low sulfur diesel on a national basis since last October. A spokesman for the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association said refiners are making diesel as clean as they are able.

The CATR said since shipping trucks travel across the states, the federal Environmental Protection Agency should require long-haul trucks to add controls whenever the engines are rebuilt. Some of those trucks are driven 1 million miles before they are replaced, but their engines are rebuilt more frequently.

The group said U.S. engine rules for ferries and locomotives should be finalized. The EPA plans to issue standards on those pollution sources in the next year.

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