Investigation finds that diesel emissions tests are less accurate than smoke tests

In the second election this year to see both parties promise to introduce mandatory testing of diesel vehicles at ports, the Canadian province of Ontario is calling for the widespread deployment of instant tests to determine whether or not their vehicles are emitting harmful levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide and smog are factors in cases of “severe” respiratory disease and have been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses.

The Ontario government is calling for an increase in the use of rapid COVID tests, which cost around $1,500 per vehicle. Locating a COVID or rapid emission testing center, where a technician “crackles” certain smells onto the tailpipe, is currently not part of the standard work of vehicle emissions testing stations.

QuickCOVID instant emissions tests could make the tests necessary only once a car leaves the lab, and has reduced costly post-sale testing, the provincial government said in a recent analysis on the climate change benefits of initial COVID testing.

Of course, speed is no guarantee of success; the “crackle” emitted by rapid COVIDs is naturally less precise than the “burn” method (which is the current standard), and it takes time for tests to confirm the emissions they identify. Still, studies have shown that initial emissions checks can significantly reduce the emissions of the vehicles they detect.

The first time the technology could be used is on commercial and delivery vehicles running on or near waterways and on land bridges, where numerous incidents occur every year. They include:

A locomotive rolling over a floating bridge in the Minnesota River where environmental officials learned of 6,000 pounds of CO2 coming out of its exhaust;

A firetruck on a launch in Cornwall, Ontario, overheating itself to the point of trying to rehydrate and dismantle it manually and causing enough smoke that a nearby beach became home to the state’s largest school holiday crowd;

The death of a woman at a train crossing in Hamilton, Ontario, when emergency lights suddenly failed and she came in contact with the wrong train;

An SUV that sped down a railway line into a moving train that flattened several cars as the driver was uninjured after the vehicle was hit by a train.

Uninspected vehicles on the waterfront run particularly at risk from these sort of accidents, according to a 2006 study by the New Brunswick Water Management Institute. An estimated 13 percent of vehicles in New Brunswick are not inspected, and at Dover, N.S., 1.7 percent of commercial trucks are not inspected at all. But any action that is taken in Ontario could have a broader impact. “So far we’ve known the effects of diesel cars on the environment are relatively local,” said analyst Marc Karter-Godman of Sustainable Transport Technology, a non-profit advocacy group, in a press release. “But these studies point to the need for national standards in the traffic lab to protect Canadians.”

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