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I can't breathe


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I just returned from a 1500 mile round trip motorcycle ride from Montana through Idaho, Washington and Oregon.  The air quality on the roadways was horrible, but especially on the interstate highways and in cities.  Diesel fumes, a known carcinogen, are the absolute worst.  Those fumes are everywhere and chokingly thick. 


It seems obvious that internal combustion engines are primarily Rube Goldberg pollution machines that happen to produce propulsion.  


I had experienced this previously so I bought a better venting helmet thinking it would help, but I now see it's not the helmet, it's the poison in the air.   Someone suggested a filter that covers the nose and mouth, but I don't think that will do much good,  even if I could find one to fit under my full face/modular helmets.  Anybody have any ideas how to mitigate this adversity for motorcycle riders?




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Of course I ride off the interstates and out of cities whenever possible, but many times, here in the great fat west, we don't have the option to avoid them.    


Get gasoline powered motorcycles off the road?  That's an idea.  I'd prefer to start with the jacked up 4x4 pickups that roll coal cuz ''Merica, fuck yeah!'  


Another idea would be for me to just quit riding motorcycle altogether.  Or BETTER YET, how about I just chose to stop breathing.  Yeah, that's it.  I'll just hold my breath. 

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Joe Frickin' Friday
On 7/7/2019 at 1:30 PM, MontanaBud said:

I had experienced this previously so I bought a better venting helmet thinking it would help, but I now see it's not the helmet, it's the poison in the air.   Someone suggested a filter that covers the nose and mouth, but I don't think that will do much good,  even if I could find one to fit under my full face/modular helmets.  Anybody have any ideas how to mitigate this adversity for motorcycle riders?





Particulate matter (PM) is one of the biggest air quality/public-health problems around the world (and if you think you've got it bad, be thankful you're not a woman living in the third world, where you cook for your family every day over a solid-fuel fire, possibly even doing so indoors; you can look forward to a shortened life that has a good chance of being ended by lung cancer, heart disease, or COPD).  Filtration is an accepted method for dealing with airborne PM, but sloppy-fitting surgical-style masks are of limited value.  If you really want to stop PM, you need a good-fitting respirator, with P100-rated filters on it (believe it or not, the smallest particles are the most dangerous).  Unfortunately you're not likely to find something like this that fits nicely under a FF helmet.  


Also unfortunately, a filter won't do anything for NOx, which is the other major pollutant coming from big diesels.  Late-model trucks are actually impressively clean.  Here is a chart showing the progression of US rules for heavy-duty diesel engines (18-wheelers and the like) over the years:


Image result for heavy duty diesel regulations


The sulfur (at right) is a reference to fuel quality requirements (ultra-low sulfur fuel was required after 2006 in order to facilitate the use of more advanced exhaust aftertreatment technologies).  As you can see, current allowable PM emissions are just 1% of what they were a couple of decades ago, and NOx rules have undergone a similarly massive reduction.  


There are of course obstacles to achieving this in the real world.  One is that it takes time for older, dirtier vehicles to get taken out of service; when a new emissions rule is put into place, it can be 10-15 years, possibly longer, before its full effect on the national vehicle fleet is achieved.  Another is owners who modify/defeat the exhaust aftertreatment systems.  DPF delete kits are a popular option, especially among pickup truck owners; this eliminates the soot-capturing ceramic filter in a diesel engine's exhaust system, resulting in sky-high PM emissions (additional modifications may also advance the injection timing, improving fuel economy and power/torque while jacking up NOx output).  These modifications are of course illegal, but extremely difficult to enforce on an individual basis.  However, the EPA has taken action against vendors, including one case against Edge Products in Utah.


Colorado recently made "rolling coal" illegal, although the penalty - $100 - appears to be less than the cost of a typical speeding ticket.  Not much of a deterrent.


Another obstacle is glider kits.  A "glider kit" is a truck chassis, built new, into which the manufacturer installs a salvaged engine of arbitrary vintage.  New engines are expensive (a HD 15-liter truck engine can be something like $90,000 new), so this is a money saver.  Not only that, but older engines tended to provide better fuel economy, since they weren't required to run so clean.  A popular choice is engines from the late '90s/early 00's, which had better fuel efficiency than current engines, but much higher emissions.  This is legal and isn't a new thing, but under the Obama administration, a rule was implemented that said no glider kit manufacturer can make more than 300 of these trucks per year.  However, in 2017 the EPA's then administrator, Scott Pruitt, set about relaxing that rule.  The effort was bolstered by a study at Tennessee Tech, which, amazingly, showed that glider-kit trucks can be just as clean as totally new trucks.  The study was paid for by Fitzgerald, a manufacturer of glider kits, which immediately raised everyone's eyebrows.  Well, waddya know, the EPA has its own heavy-duty chassis dyno at the lab here in Ann Arbor, and so was well-equipped to conduct its own tests of gliders.  Result?  They put out 40-50 times as much  NOx and PM that new trucks put out.  Pruitt ultimately did revoke the 300-truck limit as a final "up yours" to the environment on his last day in office.  But in the end the Fitzgerald/TT study was discredited by the EPA's rock-solid lab work, and the 300-truck-per-mfr-per-year limit was put back in place by the latest EPA administrator, so score one for the environment, I guess.  There are now accusations of improper interactions between EPA and Volvo regarding these glider tests.  It's possible Volvo selected some of the dirtiest gliders out there for testing, but I have no doubts about the EPA's test results, and ISTM that it's fair to show how bad gliders are actually allowed to be.


People like to complain about the costs of reducing emissions from vehicles and other sources.  Admittedly, it ain't free: many emissions control strategies require less-than-optimal engine efficiency, and most require hardware that increases the purchase cost.  But high levels of pollution exact other, worse costs.  It shortens lives, increases health care costs, results in more sick days, and reduces on-the-job productivity.  It makes everything you buy more expensive, including your health insurance premiums.  Take that into consideration the next time you're thinking about "tuning" your engine.


There is of course the dilemma of what to do when strategies to control NOx and PM result in higher CO2 output, which exacerbates long-term climate change.  Thankfully, all-electric vehicles are making rapid advances in the marketplace.  Even if a battery-powered car is charged by a coal-fired powerplant, this still is more efficient (in terms of CO2 grams per mile) than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle.


As for the complaint that started this thread...unfortunately in the short term, not much can be done, other than avoiding the dirtiest places/vehicles as much as possible.  Truck ahead?  Change lanes early.  City ahead?  Maybe try to time your passage so as to avoid rush hour?  Maybe consider a longer route around the city, instead of a shorter route through it?  Other than that, look forward to a future when, hopefully, electric vehicles represent a majority of the national vehicle fleet, and more of our electrical power comes from wind and solar.

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Joe Frickin' Friday

As long as we're talking about air quality, you might be interested in a Foobot for your home.  As the website explains, it's an indoor air quality monitor that reports PM and VOC concentrations.  No built-in display, but its case lamp glows blue when the air is OK, and orange when air quality is poor.  If you want to know the numbers, you can of course get an app on your phone that will let you read and plot PM2.5 and VOC concentrations at five-minute intervals.


I received one of these for Christmas, and it's been an education since then, learning what different activities (e.g. cooking, cleaning, and of course working in my shop) do to air quality in my home.  

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