OSWEGO COUNTY — Oswego County seems to be the place for “rolling coal.”
State Department of Environmental Conservation officers say Oswego County has a “significant cluster” of diesel vehicle operators who have modified their trucks to eliminate emissions controls.
It was reported in a recent DEC environmental conservation officer report that Environmental Conservation Officer Dave Thomas led a focused, heavy-duty diesel vehicle enforcement operation in Oswego County during the month of August. During that month, Thomas issued air quality tickets to 22 different vehicle owners for offenses such as removing emissions control apparatus, refusal to submit to a roadside emissions test, excessive blue smoke and leaking exhaust.
Rolling coal is a slang term for deliberately modifying a diesel truck so that it emits a thick cloud of black smoke. Vehicle operators sometimes make these modifications to get attention or elicit a reaction, either positive or negative, from the public. This is generally done by removing the built-in emissions controls apparatuses or reprogramming the vehicle’s computer.
DEC officials said Oswego County has a significant cluster of diesel vehicle operators who have made these unlawful modifications. They said the problem is more prevalent in the north country and in rural areas where more people own trucks.
The fines for the air quality violations are $700, or $150 if the truck is repaired within 30 days. Repeat offenders are required to pay a $1,300 fine if the vehicle is not repaired within 30 days.
James Boylan, Region 7 (Central New York) captain for the environmental conservation officers, said rolling coal is a trend that used to be a Western United States phenomenon, but now it has spread to the East. Thomas said there seems to be a group of young men who are all acquainted with one another who have gotten together to modify their trucks to produce rolling coal.
Boylan said years ago, the problem with trucks was primarily with idling engines — tractor-trailer trucks or school buses that were kept running for a long period of time. Today, some truck owners are learning how to remove the emissions systems from their trucks themselves. Some not only emit black smoke from the exhaust system at the back of the truck, but they will equip the vehicle with large smokestacks that are placed on either side of the truck’s cab to spew smoke straight up in to the air.
Diesel smoke is a major source of complaints to the DEC. Vehicles with tampered emissions systems are not only an environmental threat. Health studies show that exposure to diesel exhaust primarily affects the respiratory system and worsens asthma, allergies, bronchitis and lung function.
The state Department of Health includes smoking and idling diesel truck enforcement efforts by ECOs as one of their Asthma Prevention Environmental and Occupational Health Initiatives.
Asthma as a chronic disease of the lungs and is the most common chronic disease in children, according to the Department of Health. During the past 25 years, asthma has emerged as a significant health problem in the United States. In 2007, about 18.6 million (8.2 percent) of adults and 6.7 million (9.1 percent) of children indicated they currently had asthma.
In 2006, there were 1.7 million asthma emergency department visits nationally. Asthma hospitalization and death rates in the U.S. decreased from 2000 to 2004, but in 2006, there were still 444,000 asthma hospitalizations nationally for a rate of 14.9 per 10,000 and 3,600 deaths due to asthma for a rate of 1.2 per 100,000.
The projected 2010 costs associated with asthma were $20.7 billion, including $15.6 billion in direct health care costs and $5.1 billion for indirect costs such as lost productivity. The total cost of asthma hospitalizations in New York state in 2007 was approximately $535 million.
Learn more at the Department of Health’s website at https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/prevention_agenda/asthma.htm.
Also in August, Thomas issued five vehicle and traffic law tickets for associated traffic violations.