by Chad Carwein
Universities regularly undergo construction to address the needs of the community and improve the education and training they provide. Every day, individuals from all walks of life visit university campuses. It may be for their own education, to attend a campus event, or to go to work. When people walk by construction sites, they are exposed to diesel exhaust and other air pollutants that cause adverse health outcomes and exacerbate ongoing health conditions.
East Carolina University (ECU) has joined Clean Air Carolina’s Clean Construction Partnership to substantially reduce diesel pollution at their construction sites and improve public health. This is especially important given the fact that part of the mission of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine is “to improve the health status of eastern North Carolina’s citizens.”
The combustion of diesel fuels produces particulate matter—a toxic blend of fine and microscopic particles—and nitrogen oxides, a component of smog and a particulate matter precursor. Diesel particulate matter may linger in the atmosphere around combustion areas like construction sites, contaminating the air and resulting in exposure long after the machines are turned off.
Particulate matter poses a significant health risk as some of the particles are small enough to evade the body’s respiratory protections, enter deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream to impact the cardiovascular system. Both short- and long-term exposure to particulate matter has been shown to have adverse health effects. Exposure to these particles threatens the health of students, teachers, staff, and visitors.
The Clean Construction Partnership aims to reduce particulate matter exposure and its adverse health effects by adopting clean construction standards. Novant Health, Atrium Health, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have already joined the partnership and implemented these standards by requiring the use of EPA Tier 4 low emission equipment and by discouraging unnecessary engine idling in construction vehicles. ECU is proud to join this partnership and take actions that will protect the health of its students, faculty, staff, visitors, and the surrounding community.
Some specific guidelines in ECU’s Construction Standards include the following:
- “No vehicle or engine subject to this standard shall idle for more than five consecutive minutes…” with few exceptions.
- “Equipment subject to this standard must be located away from sensitive receptors (building fresh air intakes, entrances to facilities, enclosed occupied areas, etc.).”
- “Equipment subject to this standard is required to meet or be modified to meet Tier 4 Emission Requirements as set forth by the EPA.”
In developing this new construction guideline, ECU reached out to several contractors. One contractor responded with, “In the past we thought it was better to let equipment run rather than turn it off. We know better now, and I think most contractors already comply with the limited idling standard.” With regard to equipment needing to meet Tier 4 Emission Requirements as set forth by the EPA, this is expected to add costs to projects, but the University understands the importance of this requirement. In doing so, ECU will be able to push the industry toward adopting this technology at a quicker pace than has been set by the federal government. This is a great example of utilizing our purchasing power to assist in protecting human health and the environment.
Chad Carwein is the Sustainability Manager at East Carolina University.
Clean Air Carolina and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air commend ECU and others for being leaders in air quality and community health. If your organization would like to join the partnership and improve public health, you can email [email protected]. You can also learn more about the partnership and clean construction practices on our Clean Construction website.