Assistant Commissioner Herndon interviews the Air Staff to get the Scoop on Ozone
– Part 3 (September 2014)
I am continuing my series of interviews with the Department’s air quality experts to learn more about ozone. This month I met with Peg Hanna, the head of the Department’s Bureau of Mobile Sources, to find out how our cars and trucks contribute to ground-level ozone in New Jersey.
JH: Peg, how much of New Jersey’s ground-level ozone levels are caused by emissions from our cars and trucks?
PH: We have to rely on computer models to figure that out because cars, trucks and other mobile sources do not emit ozone – they emit the air pollutants (oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) that react in the atmosphere to cause ozone. Based on these computer models, about 50% of ground-level ozone in this region comes from our cars, trucks and other mobile sources.
JH: To put that into perspective, how many vehicles are registered in New Jersey?
PH: Over 6 million vehicles are registered in New Jersey; but they do not all contribute equally to our ozone levels. The amount of air pollutants that a vehicle emits depends on the type of fuel used (gasoline, diesel, electricity); the weight and age of the vehicle; how well the vehicle is maintained; and how it is driven.
We have other mobile sources of air pollutants in New Jersey -- construction equipment, trains, tugboats, ships, and the like. Those kinds of mobile sources tend to emit more air pollutants because the federal emissions standards for them lag behind those for cars and trucks. And, of course, there are the millions of cars and trucks that pass through New Jersey every year.
JH: What are those “No Idling” signs that I see around the State? Does that relate somehow to our ozone problem?
PH: The State has long recognized that cars and trucks contribute to New Jersey’s air pollution. In 1985, New Jersey passed a law prohibiting the idling of vehicles (cars, trucks, buses) for more than 3 minutes. Motorists need to be reminded to not idle. So, the Department developed the “No Idling” signs that you see at many convenience stores, schools, and other locations where motorists tend to let their vehicles idle. Reducing idling helps reduce our ozone problem, and it is also good for the pocketbook -- 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning a car engine off and on again.
JH: What does New Jersey do to limit emissions of ozone-causing pollution from mobile sources?
PH: When you take your car to be inspected in New Jersey, the inspectors check to make sure your car is well-maintained and that the vehicle’s emissions controls are operating properly. Also, did you ever notice the rubber “boot” that’s on the fueling nozzle when you go to a gas station? That device prevents VOCs from escaping from the gasoline when you fill up your tank. New Jersey also has programs and incentives to encourage owners of diesel trucks to replace their older, more polluting vehicles with cleaner ones. For example, the Port Authority banned older trucks from doing business at the port and provided funding for the purchase of cleaner ones.
JH: I’ll bet that most consumers do not realize that use of alternate-fuel vehicles is an ozone-reduction strategy, as well as a strategy to lower CO2 emissions.
PH: You’re right. Since cars and trucks are a big piece of our ozone problem, increasing the number of alternate-fuel vehicles in New Jersey would be a big help in solving our ozone problem. Consumers can educate themselves about a vehicle’s “smog” footprint by going to http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/. Choose the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicle that meets your needs. Also keep in mind that you don’t have to pay sales tax if you purchase an electric vehicle in New Jersey.
JH: What is the federal government doing to reduce emissions of NOx and VOCs from mobile sources?
PH: The federal government sets emissions limits and fuel-economy standards for vehicles sold in the United States, and those standards have gotten more and more stringent over the years. And starting in 2017, USEPA will require gasoline in the U.S. to have low amounts of sulfur. Lower sulfur in gasoline will reduce NOx emissions – and, thus, help our ozone levels – because emissions controls in our vehicles operate better when there is less sulfur in the gasoline.
JH: And finally, tell me three things that I can do to help lower ozone levels in New Jersey.
PH: 1) Keep your vehicle well maintained. New cars are designed with “on board diagnostics” which identify problems with the vehicle’s emission control systems, among other things, and alerts you via a light on the dashboard if something’s wrong. When the light goes on, don’t ignore it; get it fixed. 2) Reduce your “vehicle miles traveled” by using public transportation when possible. For example, instead of driving your kids to school, have them take the school bus. 3) Don’t idle your vehicle when waiting to pick someone up, such as at a shopping center, school, train station, bus station, or sporting event.
Follow this link to review the Ozone Interview - Part 1 (July 2014)
Follow this link to review the Ozone Interview - Part 2 (August 2014)