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Train, Boat Diesel Engines Source of Deadly Pollution

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Train, Boat Diesel Engines Source of Deadly Pollution

Environment

Train, Boat Diesel Engines Source of Deadly Pollution

Train, Boat Diesel Engines Source of Deadly Pollution

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State air quality officials say the diesel engines in locomotives and boats account for a large chunk of U.S. air pollution. They say that share is growing because the Environmental Protection Agency has dragged its feet on tighter regulation. The pollution exacts a price: 4,000 extra deaths each year.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Exhaust from diesel engines is one of the country's deadliest pollution problems. The Environmental Protection Agency is forcing diesel trucks, buses, and construction machinery to clean up, but regulations for ships and trains are lagging behind. A new report from state and local air pollution officials addresses the issue. It shows that trains and boats are on their way to becoming the country's biggest source of vehicle pollution.

Here's NPR's Elizabeth Shogren.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN reporting:

The report says exhaust from boats and trains kills 4,000 people in the United States each year. It sends thousands of people to hospitals with heart attacks and asthma episodes and it makes hundreds of thousands of people miss work. EPA was supposed to come out with a proposal to fix the problem in the middle of last year. Now it says its proposal won't be ready until the end of this year.

Mr. BILL BECKER (Representative for states) The EPA has failed to fulfill a promise. And what troubles all of us here is that the consequences are dire.

SHOGREN: Bill Becker represents the state and local officials charged with cleaning up air pollution. They wrote to the EPA urging immediate action.

Mr. BECKER: Every month, certainly every year of delay is increasing the number of people who die unnecessarily in this country.

SHOGREN: EPA officials say the group's analysis of the health effects is accurate. But Margo Oge, who heads the EPA's office working on the regulations, rejects the suggestion that EPA is neglecting its duties. She says the rules are just taking longer than expected.

Ms. MARGO OGE (Environmental Protection Agency): We're trying to assess, you know, what are the technical, feasible things that can be done. What is the lead time that we need to give to the industries to put those standards in place? We want to look at the cost of those programs and also we're gonna look at the applicable health and environmental benefits.

SHOGREN: Oge says one complication is EPA regulations usually only apply to new machines, but locomotive and ship engines last for decades. So in this case, the agency wants to find a way to cut emissions from both new and old engines. Those engines produce lots of fine particles. Fine particles cause more deaths than any other kind of air pollution in the United States. More than half of Americans live in areas with unhealthy air. Paul Billings represents the American Lung Association.

Mr. PAUL BILLINGS (American Lung Association): So while we understand that it's important for EPA to work through technical issues, delay should not be acceptable to the American public. It's certainly not acceptable to the American Lung Association or the other organizations present today.

SHOGREN: But EPA officials say there's good reason for taking their time. Working through the potential pitfalls with industry now will avoid problems and lawsuits later. Margo Oge says the industry is being very cooperative.

Ms. OGE: The locomotive and railroad industry is in the process of implementing standards that we put in place in the late '90s, the same thing with the marine engines. And at the same time they're very responsible in working with us to address the future status because they realize that over 160 million people are breathing unhealthy air.

SHOGREN: State and local air pollution officials say unless the EPA works fast they'll have trouble meeting their deadlines for providing Americans with clean air to breathe. According to the EPA, ten years ago trains and boats were responsible for about ten percent of the emissions of fine particles from all types of vehicles. If the EPA fails to act, by 2030 trains and boats will be responsible for almost half of that pollution.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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