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Report: Diesel truck emissions in NYC affect people of color more

People of color are being disproportionately impacted by emissions from diesel trucks in New York City, according to a report released by The Real Urban Emissions (TRUE) Initiative.

Diesel trucks are a major source of particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), air pollutants that adversely affect human health. PM2.5 is responsible for 85,000 to 200,000 deaths in the U.S. annually, a 2021 study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The TRUE Initiative, made up of the FIA Foundation and the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), analyzed concentrations of PM2.5 and NOx, looked at traffic activity data, and used 70,000 heavy-duty vehicle real-world emissions measurements from the TRUE U.S. database to model diesel truck emissions in various New York City neighborhoods.

In this analysis, people of color refers to Latino people of any race and non-Latino, nonwhite people.

The report concluded that: 

  • People of color living in New York City are exposed to 17% more PM2.5 from diesel trucks than non-Latino white residents.
  • Freight corridors in the Bronx and Queens have the highest levels of ambient PM2.5 from diesel trucks.
  • Diesel trucks manufactured before 2007 make up 6% to 10% of the fleet but are responsible for between 64% and 83% of all diesel truck tailpipe PM2.5 emissions.
  • New diesel trucks still have “non-negligible health impacts.” Accelerating the transition to zero-emission alternatives is “essential to ensure a continued decline in diesel truck emissions and to meet climate goals.”
(Infographic: TRUE Initiative report)

The report said 10% of diesel trucks on the road are responsible for four-fifths of PM2.5 tailpipe emissions. Upgrading pre-2010 diesel trucks to contemporary diesel truck models can reduce negative health impacts by between 81% and 96%.

“This report highlights how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. It’s clear that newer diesel truck technologies have drastically reduced tailpipe emissions, particularly NOx and PM2.5. But zero-emission freight is still a long way off. The health impacts are clear, and policymakers need to act on recommendations to accelerate the transition to greener alternatives,” said Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves.

An estimated 2,000 New Yorkers die prematurely each year “as a result of PM2.5 exposure alone,” the Tuesday release said. 

Only 6% of New York City’s vehicles are heavy-duty diesel vehicles, but they contribute to 51% of NOx emissions and 52% of PM2.5 emissions, the report said.

“Communities of color, especially Black communities, have been concentrated in areas adjacent to industrial facilities and industrial zones, and that goes back decades and decades, to redlining,” Justin Onwenu, a Detroit-based organizer for the Sierra Club, said in a New York Times article. “And a lot of our current infrastructure, our highways, were built on — built through — Black communities, so we’re breathing in diesel emissions and other pollution just because we’re located right next to these highways,” Onwenu said.

Steps to reduce inequitable emissions

PM2.5 exposure is more concentrated along cargo corridors, which are often closer to communities where people of color live. 

“In New York, the impact of diesel trucks on air quality and health is very clear, and this report sets out the steps needed to address that and deliver real health benefits. However, the urban health burden of dirty air is not borne equally, and this important new analysis also shows that environmental justice has to be a key part of cities’ policy-making process. This is an urgent issue,” Sheila Watson, deputy director of the FIA Foundation, said in the release.

With freight volumes in the city expected to grow by more than 66% by 2045, issues with air pollution could worsen without action.

The report provided several recommendations to reduce the disproportionate impacts that diesel truck emissions have on people of color in New York City, including:

  • Limiting access to ports and industrial areas only to trucks with engine model years of 2010 or later.
  • Targeting the worst emitters and reducing the proportion of older model trucks instead of waiting for natural fleet turnover.
  • Improving maintenance and inspections of fleets.
  • Accelerating the shift to zero-emission vehicles by implementing ambitious timelines, rebates and infrastructure support.

“The findings of this report are of relevance to everyone looking to address the impacts of diesel trucks on air quality and their disproportionate impact on the health of vulnerable populations in our cities. We hope additional cities will take advantage of real-world data to better understand how their fleets are contributing to harmful pollution and to craft effective policies,” Tim Dallmann, program lead at ICCT, said in the release.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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