AKRON — Retrofitting diesel engines to make them cleaner may be the most significant step that northeast Ohio can take to reduce soot pollution in the air, and two regional planning agencies are considering recommending the potentially costly modifications.
The groups see the move as a way to help counties bring air quality standards into compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations by a 2010 deadline.
Northeast Ohio needs a framework in place to retrofit private and public diesel vehicles, said Jason Segedy of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, which is compiling a list of recommendations for how the region can come into compliance with EPA standards for small particles in the air.
The fine particles come from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and factory emissions and can be harmful because they settle deep inside the lungs, potentially causing breathing and heart problems. Children and the elderly are especially susceptible.
Unlike high ozone levels, a problem which typically presents itself only during the hot summer months, soot pollution is a year-round issue.
Public agencies in northeast Ohio use a fleet of more than 6,000 diesel powered vehicles, including school buses. A statewide grant or tax incentive program would be needed to provide financial assistance and encourage agencies to participate in any voluntary retrofitting effort since it would cost about $2,000 per vehicle to make the modifications on the engines, Segedy said.
The state of Ohio has already earmarked $16 million over two years for a statewide diesel retrofit program.
Aside from public vehicles, it could cost $177 million to retrofit privately owned diesel vehicles in northeast Ohio.
The Akron study group is set to present its proposals for the retrofitting program to its governing board on Wednesday.
Another group exploring the issue, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, also is finalizing its recommendations on how to reduce soot pollution. So far the organization is mulling 40 steps, including fining residents who light fires outside or in fireplaces on bad air days. The group is also considering requiring trucks on the highway to submit to testing and face fines if they are deemed too dirty.
Both agencies will submit their ultimate recommendations to the Ohio EPA, which will consider the input when it develops the state's plan to bring the area into compliance with federal rules.
Implementing such changes would help the region's attempt to meet federal soot limits, said Lynn Malcolm, executive director of the Akron Regional Air Quality Management District, which oversees air pollution in Summit, Portage and Medina Counties.
Those counties are among 27 of Ohio's 88 counties that have not met limits to comply with new EPA air standards. The federal government has told the state to have a plan in place by next year to bring Ohio into compliance by 2010.
The problems continue to vex state and local authorities, and the Ohio EPA has already declared that eight counties — Geauga, Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit — will be unable to meet the government's new standards for ozone pollution.