Our health and environment have payed a big price for the gasoline-powered engine over the last 50 years. It is important to note that the
transportation sector, which accounts for significant contributions to
Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) and CO2, has been subjected to substantial control
requirements on motor vehicles and fuels over the past 20 years.
Although there have been additional controls and more stringent
standards for sulphur emissions (such as low emission vehicles program),
changes can’t happen fast enough if we are to see reductions in these
transportation source air pollutants. Emissions endanger our public
health, the integrity of ecological systems and physical environment.
In Saint John and southeastern areas of New Brunswick, the clean air
movement has been very strong over the last six years. We have seen air
quality advocacy efforts primarily directed to the large industrial
sources such as power plants, pulp and paper mills and oil refinery
industry, at the expense of cars, trucks, trains and the transportation
sector in general.
Air quality problems in most parts of New Brunswick, Canada and the
U.S. have multiple sources of pollutants. For example, in respect to
nitrogen oxides (a contributor to acid rain formation), the
transportation sector contributes 49% of this pollutant, electric
utilities 29% and industry 28%. Sulphur dioxide emissions by contrast
are electric utilities 66%, industry 28% and transportation 3%. When it
comes to carbon dioxide (one of the major greenhouse gases contributing
to climate change), the transportation sector makes up 30%, industry 22%
and electric utilities 36%. Source: Canada/US Air Quality Agreement
We are finally starting see new tougher regulations coming into
effect to dramatically reduce the amount of sulphur content in gasoline.
Last October, the big three car manufacturers publicly endorsed Irving
Oil for its efforts in manufacturing the lowest sulphur in gas content
ahead of the new Canadian regulatory standards deadline. The Irving
refinery has been producing this low sulphur gas for the US market, and
its compliance with these new and tougher sulphur emission reductions
will give the other refineries, such as Imperial and Esso, a wake-up
call. According to Othmar Stein of Daimler-Chrysler, if all Canadian
vehicles on the road today used the new gasoline, it would be the
equivalent of removing almost ten million older vehicles from our roads.
The government of Canada has demanded a nation-wide drop to 150 parts
per million within three years and 30 parts per million within 6 years.
These new standards should have been implemented years ago.
Even with this encouraging development, it does nothing to address
the issue of consumption and wastage. In California such new low sulphur
emissions have been in place for several years and it was expected that
there would be improvement in smog conditions. However, as a result,
there was an increase in vehicle use; consequently, more gas was used!
Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), with their additional weight and
gas-guzzling powerful engines, have had a negative impact on emission
reductions, even with a gasoline that has lower sulphur emissions. The
challenge for the future will be in the area of lifestyle changes that
will result in less consumption of fossil fuel such as gas.
The encouraging light at the end of the tunnel is that fast-paced
development of alternative fuel technologies are now being actively
embraced by the Big Three car manufacturers. In April 1999 it was
reported that General Motors and Toyota were to form an alliance to
develop alternative power technologies powered by fuel cells and other
environmentally friendly technologies. Recently Ford Motor Co.,
Daimler-Chrysler and Ballard Power Systems Inc. announced a deal with
oil companies to develop a demonstration fleet of fuel cell vehicles. In
my view it is the beginning of the end for gasoline-only combustion
engine, as we have today. Other alternative technologies that are in
place are the natural gas cylinder units used in cars where natural gas
is available, as well as fully operational cars powered by electricity.
As consumers, we have to promote, demand and purchase these
alternative-fuel-powered vehicles if we are ever to see substantial air
pollutant reduced from the transportation sector. We need to promote
strategies and use less gasoline and diesel oil. In the 1970’s when we
had the oil embargo and the price of fuel sky-rocketed, energy
conservation was the order of the day. Many small gas-efficient
automobiles were produced which people desired and purchased, but today
it is difficult to find these smaller vehicles to purchase. More than
ever, we are seeing more trucks, SUVs
and larger vehicles.
There has been discussion in Ottawa about introducing a carbon tax on
fossil fuel itself to curb its use. With the high price of furnace and
gasoline over the last few months, consumers are being careful to
consume less. A carbon tax, some people say, is the answer to get the
kind of reductions we need, but it is unlikely that Canadians would
accept a carbon tax. Governments would be committing political suicide
to even consider such a move 18 months before an election.
If you see cars and trucks pumping out black and blue heavy smoke
from their exhaust pipes, be sure to contact your nearest law
enforcement agency. The Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Branch is the
usual police agency that deals with such cases. Exposure to diesel fumes
is dangerous and can have adverse health impacts depending on the
exposure and levels. In the recent publication, "The Health and
Safety Guardian", produced by the Communication, Energy and
Paperworkers Union of Canada, Vol. 10, #1 Jan.1999, research is reviewed
on diesel hazards. One compound found in the exhaust of diesel engines
by Japanese researchers and reported in the "New Scientist",
Oct. 1997 may be the most carcinogenic compound ever identified. It is
called 3-nitrobenzathrone, which is emitted in increased quantities by
diesel engines when they are under a heavy load. One of the Japanese
scientists, Hitomi Suzuki, believes that 3-nitrobenzathrone is so potent
a cancer causing agent, that it alone may account for the rise in lung
cancer in vehicle congested areas.
(photo: NBEN-RENB )
Benzene is a product pollutant of the trans- portation sector and needs
to be completely eliminated. Benzene is an environmental problem as well
as an occupational hazard. "Although precise level of exposure
varies, it is clear that some risk to the health of Canadians in general
exists as a result of benzene." (The Health and Safety Guardian
Communica- tions, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada Special Edition
- Benzene Vol 10 #4, Aug. 1999). The Council of Ministers of the
Environment is presently considering a national standard for benzene.
Another area of concern is the release of fumes while using self-serve
gasoline pumps. In some areas of Canada there are vapor control
technologies right in the gas pumps to prevent these gasoline vapors
from escaping right into our faces when pumping our gas. Vapor control
technologies need to be built directly into the vehicle’s gas tank or
into the gas pump itself, and gloves need to be available to consumers
in order to prevent gas from getting on our hands.
With respect to other industrial sources, provincial certificates or
operating permits need to identify benzene levels based on the principle
of achieving as low emission levels as technically feasible.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the role of the transportation
sector is significant. It is a matter of making lifestyle choices that
reduce energy consumption and get the most of out of the energy we use.
When it comes to our love affair with our cars and truck, lifestyles
choices will be tough to implement.
However there are a number of actions we can
1. Taking care of our vehicles will make them last longer, burn
less fuel and produce fewer emissions. Poorly tuned engines can use up
to 50% more fuel and produce up to 50% more emissions.
2. Avoid idling.
3. When buying a new car, purchase the most fuel-efficient vehicle
or one that is fueled by some of the alternative fuel sources such as
the soon to be released Homla or the new fuel-efficient car called
Insight, with its fuel efficiency of 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres or
72 miles a gallon.
4. Use alternative active forms of transportation such as walking,
cycling, public transit or car pooling, etc.
In conclusion, it is clear that the transportation
sector has been a significant source of air pollution in our society in
terms of smog, ozone formation greenhouse gas emissions, etc. At the
same time, it offers us as a society an opportunity to reduce pollutants
associated with its gasoline combustion engine. The question is, are we
willing to make the harder lifestyle choices necessary to reduce
emissions associated with the transportation sector? Time will tell …
my prediction is that we will do what has to be done to protect human
health and our environment.