EXCLUSIVE / Large diesel-powered machines responsible for toxic emissions in Europe’s urban areas will not be obliged to limit emissions of ultrafine particulate matter (PM) by using particle filters, and will not need to report their CO2 emissions, under key parts of a draft EU law seen by EurActiv.

Diesel fumes are one of the principal causes of cancer according to the World Health Organisation, and a major contributor to the 400,000 premature deaths each year in Europe caused by air pollution.

In major cities such as London, pollution from machines used in roadside labour accounts for 15% of nitrogen oxide (NOx), and 12% of particulate matter (PM) emissions, with construction workers exposed to the highest levels.  

But while the draft Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) directive limits NOx emissions to 0.67 grams per KiloWatt hour (KWh) for equipment such as electricity generation sets, it exempts the largest and worst-polluting diesel engines – with a power rating of more than 560 KWh – from obligation to filter some of the most dangerous forms of particulate pollution.

“This will encourage people to use bigger generating equipment that creates more pollution and more cancer,” Greg Archer, the clean vehicles manager for Transport and Environment, a campaigning group, told EurActiv.

An EU stakeholder consultation report last year said that setting particulate emissions limits for machinery with a 560KWh power rating would achieve "significant emission reductions" and "avoid market distortions" as well as bringing "environmental gains".

The effects of increased compliance costs and fuel consumption would be dampened as most affected manufacturers already exported to more regulated markets, it found.

Yet the draft directive appears to have moved away from this perspective. “For some reason there is also no standard for particle matter pollution for diesel locomotives so they won’t need particle filters either, even though rail cars are included,” Archer said. “It is just anomalous.”

In the stakeholder submissions though, Europe's electricity association, Eurelectric requested that the NRMM not be extended to stationary engines "to avoid duplication of environmental regulation" such as the Industrial Emissions Directive.

Thermo King Ingersoll Rand supported an alignment with the US Environmental Protection Agency's more exacting emissions standards, and voiced concerns for space constraints in transport refrigeration units (TRUs) and unharmonised fuel quality standards. 

"We urge the Commission to consider the cost and feasibility impacts for TRU manufacturers associated with implementing advances technologies that would be required by revisions to the directive," the company wrote. "It should also be noted that compliance is costly to small and medium-sized enterprises that support TRU operations."

Examples of machinery likely to be covered by the new directive include: generators, bulldozers, fork-lifts, pumps, construction machinery, garden equipment, industrial trucks, and mobile cranes.

Diesel-powered waterway vessels

Diesel-powered small inland waterway vessels are exempted from particulate emissions restrictions in the draft directive, although they are heavy emitters. Larger vessels though would be covered by the proposed law.

The European Barge Union in its stakeholder submission said that the renewal or retrofitting of engines in its legacy fleet was "only acceptable on a voluntary basis".

"A mandatory renewal of this fleet would lead to a distortion of competition with regard to non-EU fleet (i.e. on the lower Danube) and most of all with regard to other modes of transport where emission standards are only applicable for new engines," their contribution said.

Particulate number (PN) limits - as opposed to the particulate matter (PM) mass limits in the legislation - would oblige the fitting of diesel particulate filters which can reduce emissions of the most dangerous ultrafine diesel particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

They can also reduce the output of black carbon, a powerful contributor to climate change, as well as a health concern, for its ability to carry a wide variety of combustion-derived chemical cocktails to sensitive organs such as the lungs, the body’s defence cells and possibly the systemic blood circulation.

Invisible killer

“If the Commission is serious about arresting this invisible killer in our cities, it must close these loopholes before it issues the law," Archer commented.

The NRMM directive was a Brussels response to an increase in the amount of stationary construction machines, many of which fell beyond the aegis of existing legislation.

The oft-amended laws on statute covering engine exhaust emissions were seen as overly-complex and ineffective.  While emissions standards for road vehicles became more stringent, due to health and climate concerns, equivalent measures for diesel machines lagged behind.

But the new draft law does not impel equipment manufacturers to report or even, in many cases, measure their CO2 emissions until at least 2025, when the clause will be reviewed. In the interim 15 years, accurate fuel efficiency analysis of the road machinery sector would be unlikely.

Campaigners also complain that the draft’s requirements for in-service checking of machines to ensure they meet the required NOx limits are “inadequate and unclear” and that compliance lead-in times stretching to 2021 for some classes of machine are too long.