A NEW REPORT BY THE Boston-based Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is urging diesel vehicles to clean up their act to reduce the health risks posed by their emissions. According to the report, “Diesel and Health in America: The Lingering Threat,” exposure to diesel pollution is responsible for the deaths of approximately 21,000 Americans each year.

The report praises the stricter federal diesel engine emission standards that are set to take effect in 2007. But because the regulations only apply to new engines, CATF recommends aggressive local, state and federal efforts to curtail the emissions of fine particles from existing diesel vehicles. There are roughly 13 million diesel vehicles operating in the United States today, and the lifespan of those vehicles is about 30 years, according to the report.

The report urges state and local governments to reduce emissions of existing pubic and private diesel vehicles by requiring ultra-low-sulfur diesel and other cleaner fuels, such as biodiesel; creating and funding programs that provide monies for diesel equipment owners to replace or rebuild engines; requiring the replacement of mufflers with filters or oxidation catalysts; and adopting anti-idling legislation.

CATF also believes the federal government should pass legislation to provide funding for the cleanup of municipal and state diesel fleets, and also explore regulatory options for reducing emissions from vehicles that engage in interstate travel, such as long-haul trucks, ships and locomotives.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Fredrick, Md.-based Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), a trade association that represents diesel engine and equipment manufacturers and makers of emission control systems, says that the study's conclusions on the health risks posed by diesel exposure are wrong. The study uses 1999 emissions data that does not reflect the presence of cleaner diesel engines that have been put in use during the past six years, he explains. “It doesn't compute,” Schaeffer says.

Nevertheless, DTF shares CATF's commitment to cleaning older diesel engines, Schaeffer says. The association endorses voluntary federal and state programs to retrofit vehicles with emissions control equipment. Such programs have funded more than 166,000 retrofits over the past five years, according to DTF.

In the meantime, the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program recently awarded $1.8 million in grants to 18 projects to reduce diesel emissions. Among the recipients were the American Lung Association of Missouri, which is working with the city of St. Louis to retrofit refuse trucks with oxidation catalysts and crankcase controls, and the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, which will retrofit garbage collection trucks in the South Bronx section of New York with oxidation catalysts, crankcase controls and ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. Garbage truck retrofitting projects in Trumbull, Conn.; Cambridge, Mass.; and Fairfax County, Va., also received grants.

CATF's report can be viewed at Web site: www.catf.us.