Chicago is a transportation and economic hub, where trains, trucks, boats and heavy construction equipment are highly concentrated. These vehicles’ engines burn diesel, which pollutes nearby highways, railyards, ports, intermodal facilities and construction sites. Commuters and residents who live near areas with high concentrations of diesel pollution are most at risk of exposure — but, as an air pollutant, diesel exhaust knows no boundaries.
Diesel exhaust is a complex mixture composed of thousands of substances, including more than 40 toxic air pollutants. These microscopic particles can become lodged in the lungs, posing serious health risks related to premature death, cancer, heart disease, neurological problems and respiratory illness.
Diesel pollution also degrades the environment. It is the primary cause of particle and ozone pollution in Chicago, which exceeds the safe levels designated by the U.S. EPA. Diesel engines also emit a form of soot pollution known as “black carbon,” the second leading contributor to climate change.
Technology exists to reduce diesel pollution up to 90%, and stronger diesel pollution controls would provide jobs in the installation and manufacturing of that technology. However, most old diesel-fueled vehicles are not required to install this technology.
What is ELPC Doing?
ELPC analyzed traffic, construction and infrastructure data to identify areas of Chicago that may have higher rates of diesel activity and pollution. Intermodal facilities, major roads and highways, heavy commercial traffic, high-congestion areas, construction zones and vulnerable populations were all considered. The result is a series of maps that demonstrate potential “hot spots” where high diesel activity and vulnerable populations overlap. Now we are testing our “hot spot” theory by installing air pollution monitors throughout the city to gather neighborhood-specific data that might help ELPC and area decision-makers prioritize diesel-reduction strategies.
Diesel pollution may be addressed by retrofitting older trucks under a company’s control; using “clean construction” equipment and techniques for long-term construction projects; managing traffic better at particularly sensitive areas; monitoring the air quality in and around sensitive areas; and using the best-available pollution-control technology on locomotives, rail yard equipment, construction equipment, and diesel-fueled vehicles that we know are coming in-and-out of the same neighborhoods every day.
Our work involves concurrent scientific analysis, community organizing, policy advocacy and legal strategy in collaboration with local community, environmental and public health groups, as well as City of Chicago officials and representatives of private companies.