Original file date: Sat, 7 Feb 2015, ID:ihg69u
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about diesel emissions and air quality. Part one explored moves by counties to implement diesel testing for cleaner air. As county health departments work to curb emissions, one of the big fish they hope to catch is smoking vehicles. And at the state level, a new bill could help give them the teeth they need. Smoking vehicles are often the result of intentional tampering with a vehicle’s clean burning programming. Excess fuel gets pumped to the engine, and the result is black, sooty exhaust. While these modifications were used to increase towing power in the past, these days they’re more often associated with the anti-society and anti-environment “Rolling Coal” movement. Drivers use their tampered vehicles to blast exhaust on pedestrians and Prius drivers. “What you need to do is go on YouTube and search ‘rolling coal,’” said Dennis Keith, manager of the Air Quality Bureau at the Davis County Health Department. “It’s becoming quite a phenomenon.” Snuffing out the smoke Despite efforts to crack down on car pollution, smoking vehicles remain a problem, even in counties actively working to improve air quality. “We receive several complaints from the public throughout the year about diesel trucks that smoke,” said Brian Cowan, deputy director of environmental health at the Weber-Morgan Health Department. While the health department doesn’t have complete records for the number of complaints beyond the past two years, the number of reported smoking vehicle in Weber County jumped from 53 in 2013 to 100 in 2014. Those numbers don’t include vehicles registered in different counties or misreported license plate numbers. Part of the problem is, unlike gasoline cars, emissions testing for diesel vehicles isn’t required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Only two counties have elected to form their own diesel testing requirements, making it easy for many of the state’s smoking trucks to fly under the radar. “That’s one of our concerns,” Cowan said. “If we’re not testing those vehicles, we don’t have an effective way to address them. If we implemented an inspection program, that would help.” A preliminary study in Davis County found that the black smoke from modified diesel vehicles has more than 100 times the concentration of small particulates that cause inversion air gunk and breathing problems. “The darker the smoke coming out, or what we refer to as opacity, the more the pollutants you’ll find,” said Chuck Gee of Worldwide Environmental Products, an emissions testing contractor with Davis County who helped with the study. “A vehicle that’s running poorly needs to be fixed no matter what. If it’s been tampered with … it needs to be brought back to (its) certified configuration.” That’s why health departments in Weber and Utah counties are now exploring the idea of implementing new diesel testing requirements to address the problem. But even the counties requiring diesel emission inspections face problems of their own. “We have people who don’t like our test, who will pass our tests then tamper or hit a button and blow smoke as they’re leaving (our Davis County emissions testing center) parking lot,” Keith said. From there, it could be two years before the county has an opportunity to test — and possibly fail — the vehicle owner again. A cloudy issue All five of Utah’s counties with emissions testing requirement have hotlines to report smoking vehicles. Growing public awareness of the smoking vehicle problem along with easier tools for reporting them partly account for the jump in complaints at the Weber-Morgan Health Department. But when it comes down to it, there’s not much health depart...
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