exhaust

Thoughts On My “Idle” Time

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Amy Miller

My daughter will be coming out of dance class in just two or three minutes. My aging mother will not want to get into a hot stuffy car. Excess heat, or cold, is not good for the office computer on the backseat. It will cost more in gas to stop then start the car again than to keep it running.

I convince myself – rationalize – that it is OK- for all number of reasons – to leave the car engine running while I am in fact sitting still.

I have read, I have even written press releases, about how much pollution we add to the air by letting our cars idle. And yet.. and yet.. it’s just so darn cold sitting in a quiet car in the dead of winter.

In fact, it is illegal in Massachusetts to leave a vehicle engine idling for more than five minutes. And many other states and individual towns and cities have their own laws along these lines. In Maine, Bar Harbor forbids idling for more than five minutes. The state of Vermont has a law similar to Massachusetts’ that is only in effect from April to November.

The science behind these laws is clear. EPA estimates that exhaust from passenger vehicles is the top source of air pollution in many of the cities in this country. Besides the health risks associated with gasoline fumes, diesel exhaust from idling trucks and buses can make asthma and bronchitis worse. Exhaust also adds to smog, acid rain and global climate change.

So adding to it when a car is parked is just silly. Those of us sitting in an idling vehicle are actually more threatened by the pollution than the people around us.

The law in Massachusetts, and most similar laws, makes exemptions.  For instance some types of delivery trucks, vehicles being serviced, and vehicles that must run their engines to keep refrigeration units cold are all exempt. While it is unclear how much police can and do enforce the laws, tickets in the Bay State can run up to $25,000 for repeat offenders.

To deal with people like me, people who like to grasp on to rationalizations, EPA offers a few factoids: Recent studies found fuel consumption during engine start-up is equal to about 30 seconds of engine idling if the engine is within normal operating temperature. Furthermore, running an engine at idling speed causes twice the wear on internal parts compared to driving at regular speeds.

So next time you are aching to idle, turn your car off and reward yourself by putting a few more dimes into your latte jar.

Find out which states have restrictions on idling: http://www.epa.gov/region8/air/rmcdc/pdf/CompilationofStateIdlingRegulations.pdf

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, eight chickens, dusky conure, chicken-eating dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Coughing Up Fumes!

schoolbusBy Yvonne Gonzalez

Cough! Cough! Cough!

Every once in a while I used to miss the school bus just as I was getting to the corner of my street where I was supposed to pick it up.  What can I say? I had a knack for not really being on time to be picked up.  Instead I would get there just as the bus pulled away, blasted with exhaust fumes and I’d begin coughing after breathing some in. As I grew up, I wondered about those exhaust fumes because I not only saw it trailing school buses, but public buses and big rigs that used diesel fuel.

I had no idea how much pollution was released or its effects until I read the “Magic School Bus Gets Cleaned Up”.   It’s all about a magic school bus that takes a group of students on different adventures that explore the world, except in the book they realize that the bus pollutes the air when it’s used.

The characters in the book, Ms.Frizzle (the science teacher) and her students, learn about pollution, idle reduction and other ways to reduce health risks from diesel exhaust.  At the end of the story, the Magic School Bus is retrofitted with its own pollution control device, a diesel particulate-matter filter.

It gets better.  With the EPA’s help, the book’s publisher retrofitted a school bus that offers hands-on science lessons on air pollution to kids.

To get more information, go to: http://epa.gov/cleanschoolbus/msb-book.htm

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago.  She currently works at EPA in Washington, DC in the Chemicals Control Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Science Wednesday: EPA Awards Research Grants to Study Black Carbon

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Katie Lubinsky

My morning drive to work involves bypassing road construction. You know … the smell of baking asphalt, those bright, dizzying orange cones in the road that you almost hit, and of course, construction trucks galore!

I breathe in the smoky, throat-gripping exhaust from the construction vehicles, which seems ‘oh-so-healthy’ for the environment. I couldn’t help but wonder how the exhaust from the diesel vehicles here compares to other exhaust sources, not just locally, but globally.
One pollutant associated with diesel exhaust as well as contributing to global air pollution is black carbon (BC). BC is a short-lived aerosol that stays in the atmosphere from days to weeks. While there, BC absorbs solar radiation and quickly warms the climate. It affects weather patterns like rain and cloud formation as well as deposits on snow and ice in Arctic areas that, in turn, darken the snow and ice causing a warming climate by decreasing Earth’s reflective power.

Health effects are also a concern with this pollutant; especially in developing countries where many people rely on indoor cook stoves that burn BC-emitting fuels (biomass, wood or coal). This, in turn, affects those around the stoves. In fact, BC contributes to mortality, cardiovascular and lung problems, and other health problems.

EPA recently awarded nine Science to Achieve Results Research Grants to eight universities to extensively study BC. Research will involve tracking BC aging in the atmosphere, using innovative computer models to look at BC deposits in the snow of the Great Plains and Canada, and studying how BC and other materials deposit into human lungs and incorporate into rain drops.

The grants went to: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (two grants); Carnegie Mellon University; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Riverside; University of Iowa; University of Washington; University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Rutgers University.

The goal of the EPA-supported research is to help answer several scientific and policy-related questions about the effectiveness of actions that can be taken to mitigate BC’s impact on climate and air quality. Hopefully, they will also help clear the air for my future morning commutes.

About the author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.