Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Diesel Trucks That Idle All Night Are No Idle Threat to Air Quality

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Diesel Trucks That Idle All Night Are No Idle Threat to Air Quality

Article excerpt

AT noon, Mark and Jamie Womble pull their 18-wheeler into the snowy lot behind Trader Alan's Truck Stop just off Interstate 95. Eight other trucks are here already, parked side by side. All have one thing in common: Even though this is a truck "stop," their diesel engines are running.

The Wombles, a husband-and-wife driving team, will also stop - but not stop. While they eat lunch with the other drivers in the restaurant, their truck will idle outside, rumbling quietly in the freezing weather to keep the engine and fuel warm.

According to a report by the American Trucking Association, the hundreds of thousands of diesel trucks idling across the United States at truck stops are a major emissions problem.

Even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently restricted the sulfur content of diesel fuel to cut pollution, tougher federal emissions restrictions may lie ahead if the trucking industry cannot curtail idling trucks.

With an estimated 1.28 million long-haul diesel trucks on American roads, the number of hours spent idling are in the billions. Truck stops are major stationary sources of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic chemicals. Some 56 percent of all freight in the US is hauled by trucks.

According to Vic Suski, senior automotive engineer with the American Trucking Association (ATA), burning a gallon of diesel fuel at idle "puts as much as 2.5 times the amount of ozone elements in the air as a gallon burned on the road."

The average diesel truck covers 130,000 miles per year, spending 6,316 hours on the road, according to the ATA's Truck Maintenance Council. But it's only hauling freight for 3,095 hours - less than half that time. For 3,221 hours the truck is running but stopped, the engine rumbling at a low idle. About half that idling time occurs at truck stops, according to another estimate.

The problem is diesel-powered, but the solution may be electrical.

Community bears brunt

"The community surrounding the truck stop is bearing the burden of these emissions," says Steve Allen, a project manager for Energy Research Group in Boston, a consulting firm for energy issues.

Truckers, both independent owner-operators and fleet drivers, leave their engines idling for three main reasons: weather conditions, economic pressures, and old habits.

In cold weather, a truck's engine and fuel tank need to stay warm. Power is also needed for heaters, lights, and more in the living space just behind the driver where he or she spends the night, eats, reads, and watches TV. In the summer, cabs and perishable cargoes must be cooled.

"A lot of truckers are under the gun," Mr. Suski says. "They have to make a drop {delivery}, and if the engine won't start in the middle of winter, or anytime, they are finished.... The way to avoid that is let her idle. …

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