Smog and the Modern Diesel

I want you take a very close look at the photo above. What do you see? A brand new truck’s exhaust tailpipe as it rolls off the assembly line, right? Wrong, it’s the tailpipe of our new project RAM 3500 Cummins diesel truck as it sat outside our office eight weeks and 9,783 miles after purchase. The pipe looks new and unused doesn’t it? It is very hard to believe that a behemoth turbo diesel truck that produces 385 horsepower and delivers a ground rippling 850 lb. ft. of torque can have thousands of miles on it and yet the tailpipe is completely soot and deposit free. Clean diesel indeed.

Let me tell you a story about smog. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. In elementary school in the mid-1960s I remember that we routinely had Stage 3 smog alerts. I mean 30 or 40 of them a year. Stage 3 is really, really dirty air. You shouldn’t ever be breathing air that dirty. I can remember being seven or eight years old and feeling my lungs burn and hurt as I walked the couple of blocks from Dixie Canyon Elementary school to our home on Valley Vista Blvd. I have no idea how many Stage 2 smog alerts we had a year in Los Angeles, but it must have been a lot more than 30. I only remember the Stage 3 alerts because they impacted our activity at school. We weren’t allowed outside to play at recess and had to have lunch indoors as well.

There are no Stage 3 smog alerts in Los Angeles anymore and there haven’t been for many, many years. In fact, by the year 2000 there weren’t even any Stage 1 smog alerts anymore. Let’s be very clear on this, air pollution causes asthma, emphysema, cancer, as well as other illnesses, and it kills people, period. End of story. Less air pollution means longer and healthier lives for everyone who breathes the air.

China is learning this lesson the hard way, the filthy air of Beijing showcasing what happens when a large population lives with virtually no emissions regulations or controls. The particulate concentration levels in Beijing often hit 500 PPM. To put that into perspective, the world standard for the level considered to be dangerous to your health is 25 PPM. In the United States we have no scale to measure air pollution this bad, it’s far worse than a Stage 3. Officials here just call it, “Beyond index.” China’s smog is now so bad that it has been compared to living in a “nuclear winter.” Crops are stunted and lost due to lack of sunlight — the light just can’t penetrate the smog. People walk around in masks and wear portable breathing devices, those that can afford them at least. The health impact and costs to the population are staggering.