Commentary

Truck pollution is hurting our kids, and the EPA could do so much to stop it

May 6, 2022 10:49 am

Exhaust fumes emanate from the tailpipe of a city transit bus as it passes an American flag hung on the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice. Photo by David McNew | Getty Images

In 2018, my family moved into a home in South Phoenix that seemed perfect for us. It was near a day care center and across the street from Central Park. But within a few months, my daughters, who were one and two years old, started wheezing at night. Our doctor prescribed asthma medicine for my oldest daughter and inhalers for both. After talking to other moms, I connected the dots and realized that air pollution was to blame. Our home was also near two truck parking lots for municipal buses and the airport.

Our family moved to Tempe, but unhealthy air is a serious concern here, too. In April, the American Lung Association gave Maricopa County an “F” grade for dangerous air quality. Maricopa County’s one million children are at special risk because their lungs are still developing. And the burden of air pollution is not shared equally. Black children have nearly two times the rate of asthma as white children. Latino children are 60 percent more at risk of having asthma attacks exacerbated by air pollution.

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We need to address every cause of air pollution, but one source that is being looked at right now is tailpipe pollution from heavy trucks and buses. Truck pollution harms people’s lungs, hearts, and even brains. It also makes climate change more severe. Smog and soot air pollution from trucks and buses are among the greatest threats to the public health of the more than 45 million people in the United States who live within 300 feet of a major roadway or transportation facility, as our family did. This is a public health and an environmental justice issue because Black people, Latinos, and people with low wealth are more likely to live near highways, rail yards, ports, and industries where pollutants are emitted into the air.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing a rule to strengthen standards for air pollution from heavy-duty vehicles. It is great to see the Biden administration prioritizing this issue and the EPA’s proposal is a welcome step forward. But as I testified at the EPA’s public hearing, the current proposal doesn’t go far enough. If we are serious about protecting our children, we need the strongest possible standards for cleaner air.

Together with other moms, we are urging the EPA to enact standards that put American truck and bus fleets on a path toward 100 percent zero emissions by 2035. Families in diesel death zones have suffered long enough. They should not be forced to wait for extra model years for cleaner air. Many people do not know that electric trucks and buses are already available and more are coming on the market in a couple of years. They are made in America and create good jobs.

That means we already have the technology to cut pollution and save money today. Zero-emission electric trucks and buses are projected to be less expensive to own and operate than their combustion engine counterparts within five years. What’s missing, so far, are the public policies to help us get to zero emission electric vehicles as soon as possible.

I grew up along the San Diego-Tijuana border spending hours playing outside after school. I had hoped to raise my three children the same way, but I keep them inside most of the time because of hazardous air quality. But like moms and dads across the U.S., I’m hopeful that we can make the air cleaner for our children and grandchildren.

The EPA must use this moment to speed up the transition to zero emission electric trucks and buses and rapidly reduce the harms of deadly truck pollution. We urgently need cleaner trucks to protect children, older adults, other vulnerable groups, families living near highways and transportation centers, and all of us.

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Columba Sainz
Columba Sainz

Columba Sainz is the Arizona field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force and an integral part of the organization’s EcoMadres program, which unites Latina mothers in fighting for safer, cleaner communities and environmental justice.

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