A battle over viewpoints has been going on for decades over the amount of air pollution that heavy haulers and ordinary tractor-trailer rigs add to the environment. Multiple studies have been conducted and the answer is yes.
It’s inevitable that the trucking industry would add to air pollution. Even though the trucks require diesel rather than traditional gas, they still have engines that create emissions when they burn fuel, just like passenger vehicles, trains and buses.
A 2018 study conducted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering concluded that large diesel trucks were the greatest contributors to black carbon emissions near major roadways. The study indicated that the type of vehicle matters more than traffic volume in near-road pollution.
Another study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that people living in low-income and BIPOC communities experienced 28 percent greater exposure to nitrogen dioxide(N02) emitted by heavy haulers than those in higher income areas. The affected neighborhoods are often near trucking routes. The study indicated that diesel trucks were the biggest emitters of NO2. What wasn’t mentioned is that production plants, factories and even power plants emit significant amounts of CO2.
A 60 percent decrease in heavy haulers trucking on weekends during the energy crisis between 1973 and 1979 resulted in a 40 percent pollution inequality. Those levels also declined during the pandemic when fewer trucks were on the road and a variety of production facilities were shut down.
NO2 aggravates the respiratory system and it also combines with other chemicals to create ozone and particulates. The compound interacts with oxygen, water and chemicals in the environment to produce acid rain.
The simple answer to the question is yes, heavy haulers and tractor-trailers contribute to air pollution, but so do many other industries ranging from those that provide electric power, manufacture clothing, and preserve food. It’s not just a single industry that’s responsible.
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