A third of trucks surpass air pollution limits in real-world conditions, study finds

Inhaling high levels of NO2 can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma, while long-term exposure can lead to chronic lung disease. [Evgeny Gubenko / Shutterstock.com]

Almost one third of trucks driving on Spanish roads surpassed the EU’s legal emission limits for NO2, a harmful air pollutant, a study commissioned by the clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) has found.

The tests, which were carried out in Barcelona and Madrid between 2017 and 2019, found that 29% of the 587 light and heavy vehicles examined produced higher nitrogen dioxide levels when driving than official tests indicated.

Inhaling high levels of NO2 can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma, while long-term exposure can lead to chronic lung disease.

Anna Krajinska, emissions engineer at T&E, said that despite emission standards, trucks continue to produce “deadly” levels of air pollution.

“The EU’s trucking standards are not doing enough to safeguard the air we breathe, putting the health of Europe’s citizens at risk,” she said.

“The European Commission must improve truck testing to cover all on-road driving conditions and introduce robust anti-tampering measures,” Krajinska added.

The three-year study was carried out by ‘remote emissions testing’, a system in which sensors capable of capturing large quantities of data from passing vehicles are placed at the side of motorways. Trucks under the EU’s EURO VI emissions standard, which was introduced in 2013, were targeted.

A total of 169 trucks, from a range of brands and models, were deemed likely to be in breach of the legal NOx emission limits, according to the report.

T&E criticised the official tests to determine truck emissions levels, arguing that they are incapable of accurately measuring the kind of emissions produced in real-world driving conditions, such as “cold starts” (emissions produced when the engine is first turned on) and low-speed driving. The green NGO also criticised the two and a half hour length of official tests as overly short.

T&E additionally contends that testing newly manufactured trucks can give a false impression, as emissions levels may be higher after several years of operation.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) refuted many of T&E’s claims, arguing that tests to meet EURO VI do take into account on-road conditions and, depending on the type of truck, can be up to four and a half hours long.

“Euro VI also requires the legal emission limits to be met not just when the truck is new but, in the case of the bigger long-distance trucks, after they would have covered up to 700,000 km,” an ACEA spokesperson told EURACTIV.

“European truck manufacturers have invested heavily in complex exhaust control technology that is delivering heavy-duty vehicles that meet the stringent Euro VI emission standards,” the spokesperson added.

The EU’s truck CO2 standards are due to be reviewed in 2022, when they are expected to be further tightened as part of EU plans to slash emissions by 55% across the bloc by 2030.

Already the European Commission has proposed a de facto ban on emission-producing passenger vehicles as of 2035.

'Radical' increase in zero-emission trucks needed to meet CO2 targets, industry warns

The number of zero-emission trucks on European roads will need to increase from around 2,300 at present to 200,000 by 2030 if the EU’s CO2 targets are to be met, truck makers warn.

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