This opinion column was submitted by Theresa Watts, a nurse since 2008 and a professor in nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno.
I think when most Nevadans think about air pollution, they think of poor air quality from wildfire smoke. However, exposure to air pollution is a continuous health challenge in Nevada, largely due to the proximity of homes to major road systems. Furthermore, many of these road systems are expanding to accommodate increases in commercial vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. People who are living with complex health and social conditions can experience exacerbation due to the everyday air pollution coming from vehicles. We need to address the significant public health issue of pollution caused by the transportation sector on the health of Nevadans.
The transportation sector is our country’s largest source of carbon pollution. While trucks and buses only account for 4% of vehicles on the road, they are responsible for nearly 25% of total transportation-sector greenhouse gas emissions. Medium and heavy-duty trucks include box trucks, delivery vans, the largest pickup trucks, flatbed trucks, RVs, dump trucks, garbage trucks, refrigerated trucks, big rigs and tractor trailers. Emissions from these vehicles are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the number of truck miles traveled on the nation’s roads is forecast to continue to grow significantly in the coming decades.
For communities living near freeways, trucking corridors and freight hubs, pollution from heavy-duty trucks and buses can be deadly. Discriminatory land use and transportation policies have resulted in disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged people who are living close to high-use transportation areas. In the U.S., it is estimated that more than 45 million people are living within 300 feet of a major roadway or transportation facility. As a result, they are exposed to high levels of vehicle pollution which can lead to long-term respiratory and cardiovascular health issues, especially among people who are younger (children) and older (65 years and older). Therefore, we urgently need cleaner heavy-duty vehicles on the road, especially in communities that are overburdened with truck pollution due to the proximity of their homes to highways, trucking corridors, ports and distribution hubs.
According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report, the Northern Nevada region consisting of Reno, Carson City and Fernley is ranked the 12th-highest metropolitan area for daily particle pollution. This means that people living in this region are living in one of the most-polluted metropolitan areas with fine particulate matter pollution — the type of air pollution that is most harmful to human health. Exposure to fine particulate matter pollution can result in nonfatal and fatal health conditions that mainly affect heart and lung systems.
To understand transportation needs in Nevada, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 413, which directed the Nevada Department of Transportation to convene an advisory working group to make recommendations for sustainable transportation. As vehicles cross state lines, we also need the EPA to adopt a standard that puts the U.S. solidly on a path toward 100% electrification of trucks and buses and to rapidly reduce pollution caused by the transportation sector. Now is the time to hasten the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses, and EPA has a clear opportunity to do so by setting stringent emissions standards that include both limits on nitrous oxide emissions and greenhouse gasses. We have the technology and the ability to cut pollution and save money today while benefiting public health. To address the deadly impacts of vehicle fumes and address the climate crisis, we need standards that ramp up zero-emission technology requirements for all types of vehicles, putting us on a path for all new trucks to be pollution-free no later than 2035.
Theresa Watts (she/her) has been a nurse since 2008 and currently is a professor in nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno and an infection control nurse at Alta Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
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