Thursday, June 9, 2011

Diesel Pollution Targeted by City Council

A bill in Pittsburgh Council would require contractors working on city-funded projects to retrofit their diesel vehicles with filters.

Councilman Bill Peduto says his bill is meant to protect the public from the harmful effects of diesel exhaust, mainly caused by a pollutant called “particulate matter.”

LuAnn Brink of the University of Pittsburgh Epidemiology Department says particulate matter can infiltrate one’s lungs, and has been tied to higher rates of respiratory illness and higher total mortality rates.

Clean Air Task Force Advocacy Director Conrad Schneider says diesel filters can catch about nine-tenths of that particulate matter from equipment exhaust systems. Schneider says retrofitting equipment usually costs 1.5% to 2% of the total cost of the construction; he says Council should cap the cost of any retrofitting project at 2%.

But Business Manager Jim Kunz of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 says that 2% is a significant portion of a contractor’s profits, and could drive many smaller contractors away from doing business with the city. He urged Council to find grant programs that would help disadvantaged contractors buy the retrofits.

Kunz says Pittsburgh should first “lead by example” by fitting its own Public Works and Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority fleets with diesel filters.

The diesel filters are made of various metals and ceramics, and usually cost from $10,000 to $30,000 apiece.