By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte
I used to ask my kids, “What has four wheels and flies?” The answer is: a garbage truck.
A new version for allergists everywhere is, what does an 18-wheel truck deliver when it’s not unloading cargo? The answer is, pollution. When trucks are waiting to load and unload they keep their engines running, thus delivering tons and tons of black-carbon particulates that aggravate the airways of the surrounding population.
As the website greenbiz.com reported recently:
Diesel-powered vehicles and equipment account for nearly half of all nitrogen oxides and more than two-thirds of all particulate matter emissions from U.S. transportation sources, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Researchers estimate that, nationwide, tens of thousands of people die prematurely each year as a result of particulate pollution,” the group says. “Diesel engines contribute to the problem by releasing particulates directly into the air and by emitting nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, which transform into ‘secondary’ particulates in the atmosphere.”
The 12,000 trucks that hang around daily in Hunts Point, the Bronx have a lot to do with the dubious distinction of it making it the nation’s worst asthma zip code. I would compare it to landing and taking off at a major airport, but spread over a much smaller, more densely populated area. The trucks must wait their turn sometimes as long as ten hours for dock handling space. While truck traffic is unavoidable at the Point, a new generation of cleaner engines could result in far less pollution from idling. The transformation could be paid for by a combination of subsidies and lower fuel costs, and a long view of the savings from lower health costs.
Says John Boesel, president and CEO of Calstart, a membership group dedicated to the growth of a clean transportation technologies, “In the long run, society will save money because we’re going to reduce our healthcare expenditures. I think it’s an appropriate role now, say through the end of this decade, for government agencies to provide some funding until the volumes get up. And then once the volumes get up, then we’ll see the prices drop, and I don’t think we’ll see the need for subsidy beyond that.”
I hope so. Fuel costs alone aren’t much of a factor because in addition to the need to keep produce refrigerated, truck engines also power a range of comforts for drivers that keep life on the road bearable. The self-contained environments include full entertainment systems and facilities for to serve every bodily need: eating, bathing, sleep and even sex. The available electrical hookups to prevent idling are underused. Fines as large as $1,000 for idling more than twelve minutes have become law with little effect. The fuel consumed by idling at Hunts Point is a tiny fraction of the $400 or more per day for keeping it on the road, and the overall costs of thousands when you factor in the driver’s pay, insurance, logistics management and so on.
I’ll take the weaning and greening, even if it means subsidies in the short term, which, combined with lower fuel costs, will give fleet managers a five-year payback according to experts.
Hunts Point is as much a part of the economic and cultural life of the neighborhood as nearby Yankee Stadium. One of the odd things about the renovation of the Stadium a few years back is that the heavy investment in parking lots has been a disaster as more and more people arrive by public transportation. That’s a good thing for everyone but investors. But lettuce and tomatoes can’t take the subway. A greener truck fleet would help everyone.
Photo by psipunk.com