Construction vehicles and equipment are a major source of diesel pollution. The construction industry uses more diesel engines than any other sector. There are nearly 75,000 pieces of construction equipment in use in Illinois and most lack pollution controls.
"A single bulldozer engine can emit as much particulate matter as more than 500 cars."
– US EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee
Diesel-powered construction equipment can be a serious public health threat as diesel exhaust contains more than 40 toxic air contaminants, carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds and fine particulate matter ("soot"). Exposure to fine particles is known to cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes and premature death.
In Illinois alone, it is estimated that diesel exhaust triggers more than 20,000 asthma attacks, causes more than 680 heart attacks and leads to approximately 570 premature deaths each year. Although diesel pollution is unhealthy for everyone, children, seniors, occupational workers and people who live with lung disease are especially at risk.
- Switch to cleaner fuels. Using cleaner fuels, such as ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD), can reduce "soot" pollution.
- Retrofit vehicles and equipment. Installing pollution controls, such as diesel particulate filters or diesel oxidation catalysts, can achieve significant pollution reductions. Diesel particulate filters can reduce "soot" pollution by up to 90 percent. (See visual)
- Replace. Replacing old construction equipment with a new lower-emission model ahead of schedule can result in substantial pollution reductions.
- Reduce idling. Reducing the amount of engine idling time will also reduce pollution.
Visual: Particle matter levels from a wheel loader without a diesel particulate filter (DPF) (left) are much higher compared to one with a diesel particulate filter (right). (Picture and testing courtesy of the Clean Air Task Force)
Today, numerous states, local governments and public agencies are reducing diesel pollution by adopting "green construction requirements," which require contractors working on public construction projects to use cleaner diesel fuel and/or pollution controls on their diesel vehicles and equipment. For more information, visit the US EPA Clean Construction website.
In May 2009, Cook County, Illinois became the first county in the Midwest to adopt a green construction ordinance aimed at limiting deadly diesel soot from its publicly financed construction projects. Previously, green contracting language was adopted for the Dan Ryan Expressway Reconstruction Project and the O'Hare Airport Modernization Project. The Illinois Tollway and Illinois Department of Transportation have also adopted green construction language for some projects.
In April 2011, the city of Chicago passed a clean construction ordinance as well, ensuring that progressively cleaner diesel equipment will be used on city projects over the next decade.
How you can help
- Sign up for E-Advocacy to learn more about our ongoing advocacy efforts and how you can help improve the lung health of your community.
For more information, visit the Air Quality Library.