Friday, May 2, 1997
DIESEL CARS THREATEN LEBANON'S HEALTH
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
The Lebanese Parliament has a draft law, awaiting approval, allowing the
importation of diesel-powered cars into Lebanon. Greenpeace is urging the
government to drop the plan.
Are some people in Lebanon insane? This is one of the worst things that can happen to Lebanon's environment and the health of its people. As bad as the air pollution is already, Lebanon should be proud that diesel-powered cars are banned, something that many "advanced" countries cannot boast about. The ban has been in effect for several decades, a testament to rare foresight.
Here in Phoenix, Arizona, diesel-powered cars, pick-up trucks, buses, and large commercial trucks are common. In fact, if it's large, then it almost certainly is diesel. You see them at the red light in front of you. The light turns green, and they accelerate in a cloud of ugly, black smoke. Disgusted, you quickly change lanes and try to get ahead of the smoker. Diesel emissions, called particulates, irritate eyes, can lodge deep in the lung and stay there; moreover, the stuff is carcinogenic.
Phoenix has become a sewer of 18-wheeler diesel trucks because of its location at the intersection of several interstate freeways and its proximity to Mexico. The Arizona legislature (American state equivalent to Parliament), much of it corrupted by the influence of the trucking lobby, has refused to tighten rules limiting diesel emissions, even though the technology is available. In the meantime, Phoenix sits under an ugly brown cloud that often obscures the surrounding mountains. (Things will change soon as the federal government forces states to clean up their air.)
Some people claim that diesel engines, if properly maintained, can be as clean as gasoline. That is rarely the case in Arizona. There is no reason to believe that the situation in Lebanon will be any better. In addition, diesel engines tend to be noisier than gasoline engines of similar size, sounding like little bulldozers. The last thing we need in Lebanon is more noise, especially on Beirut's narrow, enclosed streets.
Instead of taking a step backward, the Lebanese government should, if not ban them altogether due to international commerce reasons, limit diesel engines to international trucks traveling in and out of Lebanon on major highways. I used to think that that was the case, but in 1995, I was unfortunate to be stuck behind a smoke-belching local dump truck on the Faraya road above Zouk Mosbeh; obviously the ban has been lifted for domestic trucks, or else laws are being broken.
The air is already polluted enough because of diesel trucks and poorly-maintained gasoline cars and their sheer numbers. The fact that other countries allow something like diesel does not mean Lebanon should follow suit. We should know better.
Thank you Greenpeace, through your hard-working Lebanese representatives, for bringing up the various issues affecting Lebanon's health and environment.
Friday, May 16, 1997
LebEnv # 27 (Supplement)
MORE ON DIESEL CARS
The following comments were made concerning the article on the proposal to allow the importation of diesel cars to Lebanon.
One reader said:
> Some people claim that diesel engines, if properly maintained, > can be as clean as gasoline. That is rarely the case in Arizona. There is > no reason to believe that the situation in Lebanon will be any better. In > addition, diesel engines tend to be noisier than gasoline engines of > similar size, sounding like little bulldozers. The last thing we need in > Lebanon is more noise, especially on Beirut's narrow, enclosed streets.
"It still remains a fact that properly maintained Diesel engines ARE as clean as gasoline engines, and certainly cleaner then poorly maintained gasoline engines. It is not a matter of Diesel vs. gasoline, but rather of proper maintenance and enforcement of high standards, which would do Lebanon some good even for the gasoline engines.
"As for the noise, while Diesel engines are much less noisy than they used to be, they still are louder than comparable gasoline engines. However, it must not be ignored that most of the noise in slow traffic in Lebanon comes from "siyyarat mHarta'a" with pierced mufflers (sometimes none) shaking their limbs due to football-sized potholes, and not from the engines of the cars".
> highways. I used to think that that was the case, but in 1995, I was > unfortunate to be stuck behind a smoke-belching local dump truck on the > Faraya road above Zouk Mosbeh; obviously the ban has been lifted for > domestic trucks, or else laws are being broken.
"I am not aware that laws are being broken. It is not that easy, since the fuel is not that readily available (one could use heating oil, however, with some limitations). Chances are though that you were stuck behind a gasoline truck burning (a lot of) oil, which is worse than Diesel. Hence the necessity to enforce high standards for ALL vehicles."
"Finally, the benefits of Diesel cars are not to be overlooked: Lower cost of the fuel AND better mileage than a gas engine of similar torque (measured in Nm), which is more relevant than maximum power (measured in hp or kW) on Lebanon's mountain roads.
"Please note: I am not anxious to see Diesel vehicles in Lebanon either. I do hope, however, that the info I provided above will lead to a more enlightened debate".
Another reader wrote:
"The better mileage means less fuel burnt and fewer emissions. Here in Norway, diesel is often touted as a more environmentally friendly fuel. But then controls on cars are very rigorous. Old cars are required to be brought in for inspection every other year and spot checks for emissions on the roads are common.
"Regular controls on the conditions of cars would also mean that a LOT of the dangerous old jalopies on the roads of Lebanon would disappear. (Along with their owners' only means of reasonable transport. And removing an important source of income for all the low-priced car repair shops.)
"The source of particulates and smoke in diesel fuel is high sulfur content in the crude oil it came from in the first place. If you refine from lean crude or remove the sulfur, diesel can be as clean as gas. (Fareed, your US friends are not only under the finger nail of the truckers, but the oil industry lobby as well.)
"I'm not sure there ever was a ban on diesel for all vehicles in Lebanon. Wasn't it only for automobiles with trucks and buses exempted? In the 60's there was a tremendous import of new and used Mercedes 180D and 230D cabs to be used as services in the country. The drivers would drive 5 to a car to Stuttgart, have the one they went in overhauled or exchanged and bring 4 more back with them. I know, because I spent one year traveling every day by service between Saida and Beirut to go to school".
(End of quotes)
The bottom line is: Lebanon should not allow diesel cars to be imported before all precautions are taken, even beyond what other countries have done. These include the availability of the cleanest diesel fuel in existence, and the availability of regulations, labor and facilities to maintain these cars in top condition. Lebanon should go one step beyond and introduce regular (every year or two) emissions testing for ALL cars, trucks, and buses. This is done in Phoenix, Los Angeles and other polluted U.S. cities. Lebanon is even more polluted than those places and cannot afford not to control the junk being spewed into its air.