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Letter: Cleaner fuel options available for Duke bus system

Ever been walking, jogging or riding your bike on campus and felt your lungs tighten up after a bus passes you belching black smoke? According to a recently released 651-page report by the Environmental Protection Agency on the adverse health effects of diesel exhaust, you were not imagining that respiratory discomfort. While the report details the cancer-causing effects of long-term exposure to diesel emissions, it also concludes that such short-term exposure to diesel emissions "can induce irritation to the eye, nose and throat, as well as inflammatory responses in the airways and lung" such as asthma.

While school systems and municipalities all over the United States are moving to switch their buses to cleaner alternative fuels in light of the EPA report, what is Duke doing about its bus fleet that burns 7,500 gallons of diesel every nine days? In past years, the transportation services department has researched alternative fuels and decided against them due to the high cost of purchasing compatible buses, installing new fuelling stations and retraining mechanics.

However, there is now an alternative that would require none of those expenses. Biodiesel is a non-toxic, renewable fuel produced from soy beans that can be used in any diesel engine at huge savings to our health and environment. Biodiesel emissions contain 90 percent less cancer-causing compounds and 78 percent fewer carbon dioxide, according to the EPA's Health Effects Testing. To date, biodiesel is the only fuel to pass both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Health Effects Requirements. As production expands, the price of biodiesel has been coming down steadily over the last five years, dropping from $3.50 per gallon to a more competitive $1.40 per gallon and is projected to go lower. Many of the more than 200 fleets currently using biodiesel in the United States have found ways to offset the remaining price difference by applying for grants and tax breaks. In short, purchasing new buses, modifying filling stations and retraining mechanics are no longer necessary to switch to a cleaner petrodiesel alternative.

All that is needed is simply to fill-up with a different fuel.

In light of the recent EPA report, is there any reason why Duke should not make ending its diesel addiction a top priority? While the University may decide to pursue alternatives other than biodiesel in the long run, are there any major reasons why it should not be running on 100 percent biodiesel in the meantime?

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