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Air officials track deaths tied to diesel

A study by associations representing air pollution control officials found that diesel trains and boats cause about 4,400 premature deaths, nearly 5,700 nonfatal heart attacks and more than 73,000 asthma attacks in children.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Trains and boats powered by diesel-fueled engines cause about 4,400 premature deaths, nearly 5,700 nonfatal heart attacks and more than 73,000 asthma attacks in children, says a study by associations representing air pollution control officials.

The study by the trade groups — the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials — is an attempt to prod the Environmental Protection Agency to make good on its promise of new regulations.

“These are among the largest and most dangerous under-regulated sources of pollution in the United States,” Bill Becker, the executive director for both groups, said Thursday. “It is within EPA’s power to avoid most of these premature deaths as well as most of the other adverse health consequences.” The groups used an EPA formula for calculating health and economic impacts.

The Environmental Protection Agency said almost two years ago it would propose by mid-2005 new emissions standards for diesel-fueled locomotives and marine engines, such as those used in passenger and cargo trains, yachts, fishing vessels, tugboats and ferries. It still has not done so.

EPA officials said Thursday they agreed with the groups that cleaning up fine particle pollution from locomotive and marine sources is an urgent matter, and that they will propose the new regulations later this year.

The agency did issue new regulations in 2000 and 2004 on two other diesel-engine fronts. First it called for cleaner-burning diesel-powered trucks and buses, both improved engines and lower sulfur content in fuel. Then it did the same for off-road farm and construction equipment, and required lower sulfur content in fuel used in locomotives and marine engines.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the industry-sponsored Diesel Technology Forum, said requiring new engines in trains and boats to run cleaner would provide benefits, but cleaning up older engines would be more cost effective.

Also Thursday, the EPA missed a deadline for a study on regulating air pollution from lawnmowers and other small engines.

An agency spokesman, John Millett, said the study should be completed next month and that proposed new pollution rules would follow by the end of the year.

Pollution from the small engines that power lawn mowers, chain saws and other machines has been estimated to account for some 10 percent of smog-forming emissions nationwide. The rules originally were due in December 2004, but were delayed pending the results of the study.