The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean-air standards for some diesel-powered equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean-air standards for some diesel
powered equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The EPA’s new rules would cut the soot and pollution that’s belched by off-road diesel vehicles
such as bulldozers and farm tractors. Frank O’Donnell is with the environmental group Clean Air
“Currently there are very minimal controls on big diesel heavy equipment and the fuel itself is
extremely dirty. It’s virtually unregulated. And this EPA proposal will go a long way, over time,
making a significant reduction in the diesel pollution coming from heavy equipment.”
The EPA projects the new rules will prevent almost ten-thousand premature deaths each year
once the standards are fully phased in. But, that’ll take a while with the last of the dirty vehicles
probably taken out of service around the year 2030.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. Every year, thousand of farmers are seriously injured in the Great Lakes region, often because of carelessness or fatigue. And as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports, sometimes farm work turns deadly:
Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. Every year, thousand of farmers are seriously injured in the Great Lakes Region, often because of carelessness or fatigue. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports, sometimes farm work turns deadly.
“For any farmer listening, it makes me feel really dumb to do what I did”
What Illinois State Representative Dave Winters did was attempt to clean up a grain bin with his hands, instead of a broom. A slow-moving auger caught his glove on a wintry day last year and before he knew it, Winters was missing most of his little finger on his left hand.
“Any farmer is aware of the dangers of augers, and I certainly was. I was just careless, tired and not thinking”
When he’s not in the state capital of Springfield, the 49-year-old Winters grows corn, soybeans, and prairie grasses on his farm. After the accident, Winters decided to use his position as a public official to spread the word about farm safety. He says working alone, like he was, greatly increases a farmer’s risk.
“And you try to reach too far, you try to do things that you need help doing but there’s nobody available, so you get yourself into dangerous situations. The other problem is that if something does happen, in some instances farmers have lost their lives or have been severely injured because there wasn’t anybody there to turn off the equipment or to get help immediately”
Most family farms are too small to fall under federal occupational regulations that require a minimum of safety precautions. So sometimes, the simplest of safety measures may be overlooked. And that plus the presence of powerful machinery can make for a very dangerous work environment. Each year more than 700 farm-related deaths occur nationwide as well as tens of thousands of injuries requiring medical attention. These accidents cost farmers billions of dollars a year in medical bills and lost productivity.
The largest cause of farm deaths is tractor rollovers, and nearly two-thirds of tractor deaths involve people over the age of 60. University of Illinois Farm Safety Specialist Bob Aherin says this is probably due to slower reflexes among older farmers and their tendency to use outdated equipment. Most new farm implements offer greater protection to users, and Aherin says those safeguards have contributed to a general decline in farm deaths over the past twenty years. One area of particular concern on farms is children. Most farmers live and work in the same environment, and Aherin says it’s not unusual to have kids around.
“They’re either out doing work sometimes before they’re ready to some things and they are not prepared both physically, but more often it’s because they’re not old enough, they don’t have the mental processing skills to do some of the activities we ask them to do.”
The 1989 death of Iowa teenager Shaun Peterson in a farming accident led to the creation of a support group bearing his name. The Sharing Help Awareness United Network provides counseling to farm families who have lost a loved one of any age. Board member Kenneth Thu is a Northern Illinois University anthropology professor. He says farm accidents are especially tough on a family because the tragedy usually occurs very close to home . . . and that means they can’t get away from it. Even a serious injury can lead to a significant loss of income, and a lack of health insurance can be catastrophic. The result can be severe depression, and Thu says it’s sometimes tough to get help because many mental health professionals simply don’t understand the needs of rural farm families.
“Not recognizing the kind of living and work-structure that they live in. The kinds of stresses and strains they feel, particularly these days with so many farming couples working off the farm, the fact that the kinds of social networks that used to exist in rural areas are dwindling away quickly. And so people are often-times more isolated then they used to be”
And though it may be a stereotype, Thu says most farmers think they don’t need any help.
“Getting support services, counseling services to farmers is probably more difficult than providing those same services to people who live in urban settings, because there’s more of a reluctance for rural dwellers, particularly farmers, to get those kinds of services. They think of themselves as more rugged, more independent. So they’re less prone to access support services”
Even with a decline in farm deaths nationwide, those support services will continue to be needed. Farming trails only underground mining as the second deadliest occupation in the United States. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.
The EPA is planning to regulate smoke
from diesel engines in farm and construction equipment. Photo courtesy of NESCAUM.
You see them every time you pass a construction site: big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges the EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort:
You see them every time you pass a construction site. Big machines belching thick diesel smoke. The smoke isn’t just annoying. It causes major health and environmental problems. Now, after years of dealing with other issues, the EPA is taking on this major source of uncontrolled pollution: emissions from farm and construction equipment. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert looks at the challenges EPA faces in this far-reaching regulatory effort.
Emissions from diesel engines create problems for both the environment and people’s health. Diesels release nitrogen oxides, which are a factor in acid rain and smog. They also spew very fine particulates that can lodge deep in the lung when inhaled. And that causes respiratory problems.
Controlling these emissions is no easy task. That’s because most diesel engines still burn fuel containing high amounts of sulfur. The sulfur clogs up existing pollution control devices. And that makes it a lot tougher to come up with ways to reduce emissions. But Christopher Grundler, deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says its an important challenge.
“In the year 2007 we estimate that off road or non-road emissions will make up over 40% of the air pollution from mobile sources or transportation sources, so it’s a big deal.”
In tackling air pollution, EPA’s first job was to clean up gasoline car emissions. Now its moving onto diesels. The agency’s first challenge came when they issued a rule for highway trucks last year. That plan drops sulfur content in diesel fuel from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million. It also reduces overall diesel emissions by 90% by the year 2007. The EPA now wants to use this rule as a model for farm and construction equipment as well. But the agency is likely to face opposition from refiners, who are fighting the on road rule. Jim Williams is with the American Petroleum Institute.
“We feel that the ability of the refining industry to make sufficient volumes of 15 ppm in the timeframe that EPA wants us to is highly questionable, whether we can do that. We’ve done some studies that show there will be supply shortfalls with the 15-ppm limit.”
Williams is pushing to phase in the requirement over a longer period. He says that would give refiners more time to produce the necessary quantities of low sulfur fuel. Until then, refiners also want to continue providing high sulfur fuel.
But Engine Manufacturers don’t like that idea. They’ve agreed to support tough standards only if the switchover to low sulfur fuel happens quickly. Jed Mandel runs the Engine Manufacturers Association. He’s worried that if cheaper, low sulfur fuel remains abundant; users could continue relying on the dirtier fuel.
“If there are dual fuels available — if there’s cleaner fuel on the marketplace for some time, as well as higher sulfur dirtier fuel, and there’s a price differential in that fuel, there will be a disincentive for users to buy the cleanest engines.”
Mandel says that could cause a delay in purchasing these engines for several years.
Like Mandel, Jason Grumet, executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, also wants tight standards. Northeast states, plagued with acid rain and smog caused largely by these diesels, are pushing the EPA to develop the tightest standards possible to meet clean air goals and also to better protect equipment operators.
“The particles from diesel emissions can lodge very deep within the human lung and we know that these particles are carcinogens, so for folks who work with construction equipment every day or on construction sites, for people who farm or plow fields for several hours a day, we think that the emissions of diesel pollutants cause a very substantial and real threat to their health.”
(sound of tractor)
Herb Smith isn’t worried about his health. Smith hops off his tractor and stands on the land that his family has farmed in Ida Township, Michigan since 1865. Despite years of inhaling diesel fumes, Smith said he’s in perfect physical condition. Though he supports regulations to control diesel emissions, he’s worried that the EPA will place undue hardship on farmers.
“I am concerned about fuel costs because our margin in farming is very slim and anything we add to fuel costs, we have to absorb it.”
Smith fears that some of the smaller farmers may not be able to bear higher fuel and engine costs and could go out of business.
Despite the many different viewpoints on the issue, EPA’s Grundler is confident that his agency can develop a rule that will bring tremendous public health benefits at a reasonable cost.
“We’ve shown we can do it for cars and SUVs. We’ve shown it can be done for heavy duty on highway engines. I’m absolutely certain it can be done for these sorts of engines as well.”
The agency expects to issue a technical report outlining emission control options by the end of the year. A proposal is due by the middle of next year. For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.
The life of a farmer isn’t easy. The work is hard. The days are long.
The profit margins, low. It’s tough work for anyone, but when a farmer
becomes disabled, the challenges are even greater. But as the Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, help is available…and
it’s keeping disabled farmers, farming: