Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. While we have much work to do, we have much to celebrate. Because my work is related to vehicle pollution, here’s my list of vehicle pollution wins to celebrate:
1. No lead in gasoline: The first, and probably most important, step to clean up vehicle emissions. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that reduces IQ and robs children of their potential to learn. For adults, lead pollution shortens lives wherever it is still used. The US banned lead in gasoline in 1975, and the rest of the world followed. Today, according to the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (which NRDC co-founded with the United Nations Environment Program, U.S. EPA, and a range of auto, oil, and NGO partners in 2002 and which has been leading the fight to eliminate leaded gasoline worldwide), only seven countries still use leaded gasoline.
2. Catalytic converters: once lead was out of our gasoline, more advanced pollution controls could be used to reduce carbon monoxide (linked to heart attacks), toxic hydrocarbons (linked to cancer and smog formation, and nitrogen oxides (linked to smog and acid rain). The three-way catalytic converter, which dramatically reduces all three of these pollutants, made today’s clean cars possible.
3. Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel: the “lead” of the diesel world. Just as we had to remove lead to get catalytic converters and cleaner cars, we had to remove sulfur to get advanced pollution filters for diesel engines. The US switched to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for trucks and buses in late 2006, and is phasing in ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for non-highway uses of diesel fuel in 2010-2012. The major difference between lead and sulfur: sulfur is a natural component of the petroleum, so it has to be removed; lead was added to gasoline, so removing it was an easier process.
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4. Diesel particulate filters: when you read about our victories to clean up NYC Transit buses (97% cleaner from 1995 – 2006) or EPA rules adopted from 2001-2008 to clean up every diesel engine used in trucking, shipping, construction, farming, locomotives and ships (avoiding 21,000 premature deaths and $160 billion in health care costs by 2030, when all of today’s dirty diesels have been replaced by engines that meet the new standards), you can thank this device that removes 90-99% of all of the particulate soot that comes from the typical diesel engine.
Four wins worth celebrating.
Thousands of premature deaths don’t happen in our country every year because of these four wins. Millions of kids are smarter and don’t get asthma attacks, and countless parents don’t get heart attacks or cancer. Billions and billions of dollars are saved in health costs every year.
Happy Earth Day!