By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation were out on the streets of Niagara Falls on Tuesday checking diesel truck emissions as part of "Earth Week."
Law enforcement officials and members of the agency's air quality team used smoke opacity meters to test emissions from trucks in a parking lot off Niagara Falls Boulevard. Officers from the DEC were pulling over trucks that appeared to be throwing off high amounts of black smoke from their smoke stacks.
In the parking lot, DEC officials stuck the long beak of the smoke opacity monitor directly into the emission pipe while the driver revved the engine three times. The machine then averaged the three readings and printed out a report that slowly emerged on receipt paper from a grey box with various knobs and buttons.
James Schultz, a lieutenant with the DEC police, said his office conducts one or two organized details in the six-county region each month in an effort to make sure that the trucks traveling the roads are in compliance.
"We try to pick an area that's got heavy truck traffic so that we can sit in a spot and observe trucks as they take off under power, because that's usually when you're going to see emissions," Schultz said.
The two trucks that were stopped while a Gazette reporter was observing the operation both passed their emissions tests, falling below the 40 percent smoke density mark set forth for trucks manufactured in 1991 or afterward.
Fines for trucks that test outside the agency's standards are fined $700 for a first offense and $1,300 for a second offense. Companies are given the opportunity to reduce those fines if they fix the trucks and have them tested again.
Shultz said Tuesday's detail was part of the state's eco-quality initiative.
"The initiative is just an effort to make sure that the trucks that are out here are in compliance with the regulations," Schultz said. "We're looking for idling diesels at certain spots but this test today is more for emissions involving those trucks."
Richard Gage, an air quality expert for the DEC, said that the 40 percent threshold is high, but that legislators set lenient standards to target "gross emitters."
"When they wrote (the law) trucks were either very clean or very dirty," Gage said. "So they went after the very dirty."
Gage, who has worked in the air quality unit for 14 years, said he has seen diesel truck emissions drastically reduced during his tenure with the agency.
Newer trucks, which have been equipped with emissions control devices since 2004, emit little to no smoke, he said.
"Before that there was nothing," Gage said. "Whatever came out went into the air."Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257