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Which is Worse for Air Quality: “Burger Smog” or Truck Pollution?

Nov. 2, 2012
By Barry R. Wallerstein, AQMD's Executive Officer
 
Recent news articles have reported that charbroiling burgers creates more air pollution than trucks. While charbroiling is a large source of pollution, heavy-duty trucks pose a much bigger overall problem for the Southland’s air quality.
 
In fact, if left uncontrolled, restaurant charbroiling of burgers and other meats does produce more fine particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, than all big-rig trucks in the region -- but only if you compare just the PM2.5 directly emitted by each source.  Unlike charbroilers, trucks are the No. 1 source of nitrogen oxide emissions, a pollutant that forms PM2.5 in the atmosphere.  When this is taken into account, trucks are responsible for nearly three times the PM2.5 produced by restaurant charbroiling.
 
In addition, it is well documented that diesel emissions are a potent carcinogen and responsible for about 85 percent of the total cancer risk from air pollution.
 
What can be done to reduce truck emissions? New trucks must meet tailpipe standards requiring sophisticated pollution controls. That’s why new trucks are many times cleaner than older models. However, trucks have a long service life and it will take years if not decades for the dirty diesels in today’s trucking fleet to be replaced by newer, cleaner models. That’s why AQMD has provided millions of dollars in incentive funds to replace thousands of aging dirty diesel trucks with new, cleaner models, especially in areas heavily impacted by diesel exhaust including the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and warehouses in the Inland Empire.
 
While trucks present one of the toughest challenges to improving air quality, the impact of commercial meat charbroiling shouldn’t be underestimated.  Commercial “under-fired” charbroilers emit more than 9 tons per day of fine particulate (PM2.5) because they have no pollution controls.  (AQMD has required pollution controls since 1997 on so-called chain-driven charbroilers, used at restaurants such as Burger King and Carl’s Jr.  However, the majority of commercial charbroilers in use are under-fired.)
 
AQMD has also conducted research since the early 1990s to quantify commercial charbroiling emissions and test potential control devices for them.  While emissions have been quantified, researchers and manufacturers are still developing and commercializing cost-effective control devices. That’s why AQMD has contracted with UC Riverside’s CE-CERT to evaluate five different control devices. AQMD hopes that one or more can be demonstrated in local restaurants in the near future.
 
If the control devices adequately reduce pollution and are cost-effective, and if further PM2.5 emission reductions are needed to meet the federal health standard for PM2.5, AQMD may consider adopting a regulation requiring controls for under-fired charbroilers at larger restaurants. As with all AQMD regulations, staff will carefully evaluate the economic impacts on the restaurant industry and AQMD’s Governing Board will develop policies taking into account both public health benefit and the cost to the restaurant industry.
 
In spite of dramatic progress in cleaning the air, residents of Southern California and the Inland Empire in particular suffer some of the worst air quality in the nation. We need to further reduce emissions from all sources, including big-rig trucks and restaurant charbroilers, to meet our clean air goals and protect public health.





This page updated: November 07, 2012
URL: http://www.aqmd.gov/news1/2012/charbroilingemissions.htm