A three-month study has begun to measure diesel pollution from semi-trailer trucks, dump trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles on local roads and highways.
Metro Vancouver this week announced that specialized technology involving remote sensing tests will be used over the summer to measure pollution.
Infrared and ultraviolet beams from a testing trailer on one side of a road will be directed at the height of a heavy-duty truck's "stack," or engine exhaust pipe, the regional district explained. The beams go through the exhaust plume of passing trucks to a "detector," allowing for analysis of the vehicle's emissions.
Trucks and buses that pass by the test site do not have to slow down or stop for emissions testing.
Metro Vancouver says one of the problem pollutants in the exhaust of diesel-powered engines is diesel particulate matter, small particles that people breathe deep into their lungs
Public health and air pollution studies estimate that current levels of diesel soot emissions are responsible for two-thirds of the lifetime cancer risk from air pollution in Metro Vancouver, according to the district.
The provincial government's Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement Branch currently monitors heavy-duty diesel particulate matter emissions through its mobile AirCare On-Road inspection program. That program will continue to run tests of heavy-duty diesel vehicles, looking for excessive smoke emissions, says Metro Vancouver.
This May, the B.C. Ministry of Environment announced that AirCare emission tests for passenger cars, vans and light trucks will cease at the end of 2014 to allow for a full examination of the program's future direction and focus.
"This study is a good first step to help us gain better understanding of diesel emissions from the transportation sector in the Lower Mainland, and is consistent with AirCare commitments made by the province," said B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake. "The results will help us develop options for reducing diesel emissions in the region moving forward."
The partners in the $130,000 study include Metro Vancouver, provincial government, the Fraser Valley Regional District, AirCare and Port Metro Vancouver. Other agencies, including Environment Canada, are lending expertise.
A report by Metro Vancouver's environment and energy committee two years ago suggested AirCare expand its scope to include more emphasis on heavy-duty diesel trucks.
Some of the ideas included increasing the stringency of emission limits for the On-Road inspection program as well as further regional regulations.
The report noted emission standards for new light and heavy-duty vehicles have become progressively more stringent over the last decades, and as a result emissions have declined, but even new vehicles can have emission defects.
The report also noted heavy-duty vehicles can be susceptible to "declining emission performance."
South Delta, in particular, faces increasing truck traffic as a result of port expansion, including the proposed Terminal 2, which could be operational at Roberts Bank as soon as 2020.
The group Against Port Expansion stated that when the third berth at Deltaport opened in 2011, Delta would face exhaust emissions from up to 2,400 diesel trucks daily.
In addition, 400 container ships per year will be spewing toxic emissions into Delta's air shed.
Should Terminal 2 become a reality, it would double the number of trucks, ships and trains polluting the air shed, according to APE.
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