City to reduce emissions from garbage truck fleet

Saturday, October 17, 2009
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

James Clark has worked as a Pittsburgh garbage and recycling truck driver for just six months but has already sniffed out his 14 favorite vehicles in the 47-truck city fleet.

Those are the trucks that have been retrofitted with pollution controls that reduce the amount of soot emissions by 90 percent.

“As a driver I’m smelling diesel exhaust all day, but with those trucks I don’t. The smoke is cut, the diesel smell is cut, and they run better,” said Mr. Clark, who was at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville yesterday to hear that the Allegheny County Health Department has received $443,100 to install pollution controls on the other 33 waste hauling trucks.

The money is part of more than $1.2 million in federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money Pennsylvania is using to reduce diesel vehicle emissions and improve air quality in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas.

With a big blue recycling truck and the Arsenal Park playground as a backdrop, John Hanger, state Department of Environmental Protection secretary, said the truck retrofits will improve the city’s air and the lives of its residents. He cited a recent New England Journal of Medicine study that found soot reductions from 1980 to 2000 had extended the life expectancies of Americans by four months and of Pittsburghers by 10 months.

“It’s just a battle to reduce soot in the air and we have to do it car by car and truck by truck,” Mr. Hanger said. “This money can help make the air and the economy better at the same time.”

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, said the federal economic stimulus money is a welcome boost for vehicle retrofit programs in the region.

GASP and another environmental group, Clean Water Action, have led efforts by the Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution to retrofit school buses and the city’s trash and recycling diesel truck fleet.

“This is a very important project for the city,” Ms. Filippini said, “not only for residents in the neighborhoods where these trucks idle and run but also for the workers, who will benefit by reduced occupational exposure.”

Diesel-powered waste hauling vehicles and school buses are big contributors to elevated levels of toxic, microscopic airborne particulates, commonly called soot, because of their many stops, idling and restarts in neighborhoods. Each retrofit of a truck will cost approximately $11,000.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the refuse truck retrofit program is part of an overall city strategy to create a “culture of sustainability” in all city and county departments and neighborhoods.

In Eastern Pennsylvania, the recovery act money will go to retrofit school buses in Adams, Dauphin and Montgomery counties and baggage tractors at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Don Hopey can be reached at or 412-263-1983.

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