Change is in the air

By Cary Shuman
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The Chelsea Collaborative and the Chelsea Board of Health have joined forces with Brooke Suter of the National Clean Air Task Force and Vanessa Green of Clean Water Action in a campaign to ask Congress to require and fully fund the use of clean diesel equipment on federally funded transportation projects.

Suter, national campaign director for Clean Air Task Force, said cities like Chelsea have benefited from the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, but the measure expires next year.

“We’re working on the federal level to reauthorize that legislation so it will be in existence for another five years,” said Brooke Suter, national campaign director of the Clean Air Task Force.

Suter said she hopes that the Massachusetts congressional delegation, including Rep. Michael Capuano, take a lead role in making sure that this legislation a priority.

“The legislation has strong bi-partisan (Democratic and Republican) support and truly no opposition,” said Suter. “It’s just a matter whether people spend enough focus on it to get it done. And we need to get it done because diesel pollution is toxic and we need to clean it up.”

Such vehicles as transit buses, school buses, long-haul trucks, locomotives use diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is also used to power some construction equipment (bulldozers, cranes).

As of 2006, it became required that vehicles uses ultra-low, sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD) for on-road use. In January, ULSD will be required for off-road (construction equipment) as well.

Suter said The Clean Air Task Force is advocating for a diesel particulate filter, a bolt-on technology that reduces pollution by at least 90 percent. “That is the same technology that is required on newly manufactured on-road engines,” said Suter. “The double-edged sword is that diesel engines are so durable and last so long that the older, dirtier fleets will be on the road for another decade or two.”

Suter said her group is seeking to place a clean construction provision in the federal transportation bill. The task force has strong ally in Capuano, who is a member of the transportation committee and the relevant subcommittee (highways and transit) that focuses on the legislation.

If the provision is passed, Suter said, companies that win bids for a federally funded construction project will be required to use clean construction equipment.

“The concept is that federally funded projects should not be making people sick (affected by pollution) and they are if they’re using dirty diesel equipment,” said Suter. “The use of clean diesel equipment will save tens of thousands of lives.”

According to Catherine Maas, a member of the Chelsea Board of Health who is working closely with the Collaborative on the issue, the health concerns related to diesel exhaust exposure in the city are that diesel emissions are known to cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancers, strokes, and even premature death. Chelsea ranks in the highest category in the state for strokes, heart disease, and asthma.

“We’re really concerned about the public health issue that unmitigated diesel fuel presents,” said Maas. “We really feel that diesel emissions need to be cleaned up in our area.”

Maas said Board of Health officials are concerned about the amount of trucking that goes on in Chelsea “and all the unmitigated diesel emission that we are all breathing in all the time.”

“That’s why the Board of Health is working with the Chelsea Collaborative, Clean Water Action and Clean Air Task to be able to take an in-depth look at this problem and see what we can do to solve it,” said Maas.

Jovanna Garcia Soto, lead organizer for Green Space, noted that the Chelsea Collaborative has been successful in its ongoing effort to improve Chelsea’s air quality. In September, as the result of a partnership between the Collaborative and the New England Produce Center, a $2 million EPA grant was obtained to help eliminate diesel emission from Chelsea’s air. The project will removed over 300 tons of pollutants on an annual basis.

The Collaborative and Green Space’s efforts are continuing to help the city’s fight against pollution.“We at Green Space have a clean air subcommittee and are working with Boston University on a diesel mapping and monitoring program,” said Garcia-Soto. “And we’ve started a discussion to determine the hot spots in Chelsea – where we think we have the most polluted areas in the city.”

Green, Clean Water Action diesel campaign organizer for the Massachusetts pollution solution coalition, praised the local groups’ work on the issue.

“It’s just a total pleasure for me to rely on local groups like the Chelsea Collaborative and Chelsea Green Space, and NOAH (Neighborhood for Affordable Housing),” said Green. ‘For myself to be the liaison to communicate some of the strategic ways that we can maximize on pollution reduction from diesel engines locally – I’m pleased that pollution reduction is going to be a reality on the streets.

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