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Long Overdue…Delay in Implementing Clean Construction Law Harms Public Health

What is the hold up?  Pittsburgh’s clean construction legislation (formally known as the Clean Air Act of 2010) passed back in July of 2011, yet there still is no regulation implementing the law.  The law requires projects receiving at least $250,000 in public subsidies to spend a prorated percentage on cleaner construction equipment, ensuring that construction in Pittsburgh will get progressively cleaner.

This regulation was supposed to be written within six months of passage of the legislation.  Beginning January 1, 2013, the legislation became effective for off-road diesel equipment operating on the project site.  How are contractors to comply effectively when the regulations that implement the law haven’t yet been written?

Contact the Mayor’s office and urge swift creation and enforcement of the clean construction regulation.

While Pittsburgh’s air quality has come a long way from the smoky city images of yore, we still have a long way to go to achieve truly healthy air.  And one component of cleaning the air is minimizing diesel emissions.  This includes emissions from construction vehicles, which make up nearly a quarter of our diesel pollution problem in the region.  Diesel pollution creates serious public health hazards.  Diesel exhaust contains many toxic air pollutants, carcinogens, ozone-forming elements, and fine particulate matter.

The construction industry uses more diesel engines than any other sector, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it generates roughly 32% of all land-based non-road oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions and more than 37% of land-based particulate matter 10 micrometers or less in size (PM10).  Exposure to fine particles causes asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, and premature deaths.  The good news is that emission controls called diesel particulate filters (DPFs), combined with the use of widely available ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD), can eliminate more than 90 percent of fine particles from a heavy-duty truck or piece of construction equipment.

Poor air quality created by diesel emissions especially impacts those who are more vulnerable to air pollution, such as our children and the elderly.  Construction workers are also more at-risk, as they receive the most potent, toxic dose of diesel emissions since they work around the air pollution- spewing equipment each day.

A major study of health risks from diesel pollution from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health underscores the need to reduce diesel emissions.  The study examined the public health risks of diesel pollution by looking at 12,000 mining industry workers exposed to diesel particles, and found an astonishing three-fold increased risk of both lung cancer and premature mortality among this study sample.

Furthermore, the researchers found that lifetime exposure to diesel exhaust in some U.S. urban areas with high levels of diesel pollution could carry similar risks.  According to the study, other workers who are continuously exposed to diesel exhaust are particularly at risk, such as the 1.8 million heavy truck drivers and 460,000 heavy construction equipment operators in this country as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008.

To assist small contractors in covering the cost of retrofitting their equipment, the Allegheny County Health Department and the Heinz Endowments established the Small Construction Contractor Retrofit Program.  This program is currently accepting applications from contractors who primarily work in Allegheny County or Pittsburgh.

As if grant funding hasn’t made utilizing clean construction equipment attractive enough, the US Green Building Council just announced a “Clean Construction” pilot credit to their LEED Pilot Credit Library.  Read more here.

We need your help today in urging the Mayor’s Office to get the clean construction regulation written, so that the contractors and construction companies have all the information they need to comply with the law.  The health of our residents, and our city’s air quality—and image—depend on it.

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