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Philadelphia Kicks-off new Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program Ozone Action Season Begins

Release Date: 5/24/2004
Contact Information: Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

PHILADELPHIA – Ten months ago a group of federal, state and city agencies joined forces with industry, organizations and environmental groups to create a voluntary diesel retrofit program in Philadelphia.

Today, representatives from those groups, including EPA, officially signed the charter for a new organization – Philadelphia Diesel Difference. This new group is dedicated to encouraging owners of diesel-powered vehicles to voluntarily retrofit their fleets with emission controls, use ultra-low sulfur fuel and actively look for other ways to reduce diesel emissions.

The timing for this announcement couldn’t be better since the season of elevated ozone levels begins this month and runs through September.

Ground-level ozone or smog, which causes lung damage in humans, is formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides react in hot, summer sunlight. Nitrogen oxide is one of the toxic chemicals in diesel exhaust.

“Cars and diesel trucks and buses are the largest source of what we call ozone precursors – the ingredients that produce ozone,” said EPA Mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh. “The EPA applauds the efforts of the Philadelphia Diesel Difference workgroup to reduce diesel emissions. They did exactly what they said they were going to do. They brought together all the key players and started a discussion on the need for reducing air pollution from diesel engines.”

Diesel exhaust is a problem throughout the country, especially in large cities such as Philadelphia. In addition to nitrogen oxide, diesel exhaust contains tiny particles – so small that several thousand of them could fit in the period at the end of this sentence. The fine particles are a serious public health problem because they can pass through the nose and throat and lodge in the lungs. People with existing heart or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory problems – especially children and older adults – are most sensitive to the health effects of fine particles.

“Most of us have had the experience of sitting in our cars behind a diesel truck or bus while it spews out black, sooty smoke,” Welsh said. “We can scramble to close our car’s air intake vent, but beyond that there’s not much we can do. And our instincts are right in trying to avoid breathing in the sooty smoke because it is not healthy.”

Starting this month, the Delaware Valley Air Quality Partnership will announce Ozone Action Days – when ground-level ozone concentrations are expected to exceed the federal health-based air quality standard. This year, the Air Quality Partnership will also gegin yar-round forecasting for fine particle pollution. During high ozone or particle pollution days, individuals are asked to voluntarily limit or postpone certain pollution-producing activities. For example:

– Limit daytime driving and combine errands.

      – Ride public transportation or carpool to work.
– Refuel your car in the evening - and don’t “top off” your tank.
– Maintain your vehicle’s emission control equipment.
– Postpone the use of gasoline-powered movers until evening.

Combating emissions from diesel engines is a priority at EPA. On May 11, 2004 EPA’s new Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule was signed. This new rule will cut emission levels from construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment by more than 90 percent beginning with the 2008 model year. This rule compliments the Clean Diesel Truck and Bus Rule (announced Dec. 21, 2000), which will cut emissions by 95 percent for on-highway trucks and buses beginning with the 2007 model year.

However, because these rules will not take effect immediately, EPA developed the Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program to help make a difference immediately. EPA is partnering with state and local agencies to retrofit older, dirtier engines to make them run cleaner and to develop programs to reduce emissions from idling engines.

Under the Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program, owners and operators of diesel vehicles are encouraged to control pollution in advance of the 2007 requirements.