Diesel-pollution rules will save lives, money

We are facing a financial crisis that few of us have ever experienced, and no one knows how deep it goes or how long it will last. Some say California can ill afford to impose any measure that might deepen the fiscal pain. We agree.

But the regulation currently under consideration by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to clean our air of toxic carcinogens will save lives and billions of dollars. As a doctor and a truck fleet owner, we know first hand the price tag of dirty diesel.

Annually, diesel pollution is responsible for 4,500 premature deaths, not to mention hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. How do you put a price on this kind of human pain and suffering? You can’t.  But you can estimate the hard costs associated with health care, hospital stays and lost work and school days.  According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, these health impacts of diesel pollution cost the state $40 billion a year.

Heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses are one of the last remaining sources of diesel emissions that have yet to be cleaned up. All other diesel sources – including off-road vehicles and construction equipment – have been forced to reduce their toxic emissions because California recognizes the dangers of dirty diesel. CARB estimates 70 percent of the cancer risk from the air we breathe is attributable to diesel particulate matter (PM).

Truckers have a much higher rate of lung and heart disease than most people because of their increased exposure to diesel soot. A National Journal of Independent Medicine study of the trucking industry found that truck drivers have a lifetime cancer risk that is multiple times above – sometimes as high as 10 – the levels considered acceptable by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Long-haul truck drivers with the longest driving records are up to twice as likely to develop lung cancer as workers not exposed to diesel exhaust.

Truckers are not the only ones suffering from direct exposure. Diesel hotspots, which cover up to 1,000 feet surrounding diesel sources, are linked to highly elevated cancer risk. Nearly 1 million Californians live within 300 feet of a freeway and half of the state’s residents live within 1 mile of a freeway, making these individuals especially vulnerable to the dangers of diesel pollution.  Children who ride dirty diesel buses to school are most at risk. With young lungs still developing, they are breathing air that contains diesel pollution levels five times higher than the outside air.

Marin Sanitary transformed its fleet of diesel garbage trucks well in advance of state mandates because the company believed it had a responsibility to its employees and the people it serves. An investment in a fleet of clean trucks is an investment in the future health and productivity of all California’s residents and workers. Recognizing the urgent need to clean our air, even during these tough financial times, the state is providing loans and grants to individual truck and business owners to help pay to clean up their vehicles.
Despite the financial challenges we all face, the health and fiscal impacts of failing to pass this rule will plague us for decades to come. CARB had the foresight and wisdom to draft this rule. We urge them to adopt it and lead California to a cleaner, healthier more prosperous future.

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