DPF Cleaning: Another Money Maker or Is It A Noble Cause?

While exploring different topics to pursue for the Emissions section of this magazine, there was a very interesting article that came up on the internet which was written by a postgraduate student at Lehigh University. Dr. Kun Yang wrote a doctorate dissertation about DPFs. Included in his work were the effects of particulate matter on a human’s health. A quick read reveals this is a well researched and well written paper on diesel particulate filters. This paper raises some questions for the businesses that are involved in the cleaning of diesel emissions filters: are you cleaning filters for the money or do you have a sincere interest in improving the air we breathe?

All of us are aware of the emission regulations that have been mandated by the EPA. Most of us just roll with the legislation and the regulations. You can probably assume with some certainty most businesses which clean DPFs do so because they identified another market opportunity which would allow the business to diversify and create another revenue stream. It is no secret servicing DPFs requires similar skills to those that are employed in the servicing of radiators. A NARSA member and long-time supporter, Tanks-A-Lot, recognized an opportunity for future growth in installing clean emission systems in California. Around this time, they started manufacturing DPF cleaning machines to complement the radiator service equipment they were already building and selling. With an existing customer base, Tanks-A-Lot approached their radiator service customers who recognized the new opportunity and embraced this new business. For most NARSA members, their first introduction to the DPF cleaning business would have been a result of Tanks-A-Lot’s efforts.

When you read the notes below of a meeting that occurred in July of 1995, you will quickly discover the EPA’s intentions for clean diesel emissions has been in the works for almost 25 years. The following is an excerpt from EPA’s Regulatory Announcement from October of 1997.

How Did This Initiative Evolve? In response to the need for additional pollution reduction measures at the national level, EPA held a series of discussions with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and representatives of the HDE manufacturing industry to exchange views on the appropriateness and feasibility of new emission standards for HDEs. Based on these discussions, a historic Statement of Principles (SOP) regarding highway HDEs was signed by these parties in July 1995. EPA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on August 31, 1995, which requested comment on the SOP and the Agency’s plans to formally propose new HDE emission standards consistent with the SOP. EPA formally proposed the standard on June 27, 1996. During the comment period for the rulemaking, stakeholders continued their strong support for the new standards.

That meeting set in motion the development and implementation of the DPF, DOC and SCR in diesel emission systems as we know it today.

Why was the EPA having discussions about diesel emissions in the first place? This is easy. Diesel particulate matter, better known as DPM had been identified by health professionals as a serious threat to our well-being. Environmentalists have known for years that DPM was responsible for the brown haze called smog that hung over many of our larger cities.  The health-related issues connected to the lungs and cardiovascular systems was a large enough problem by itself to warrant regulations by our federal and state governments. There is plenty of documented evidence to support the negative health effects of diesel particulate matter. For the portion of the population who live in heavily populated areas, exposure increases dramatically as it correlates to an increase in truck traffic. Coastal cities with sea ports are especially vulnerable with increased levels of diesel particulate matter produced by ships, train engines and heavy-duty trucks.  

Everything in life changes, but for some reason most of us resist change and so it was with all of the industries related to diesel emissions. Most assuredly change will mean an increase in expense. With a very competitive marketplace and rise in the cost of doing business, very few people and or companies welcome change which they know will be financially painful. In 2007, there was a huge pre-buy of trucks with engines that were pre-DPF. That year trucks sales were the highest they had been in years as individuals and companies tried to prolong the inevitable. Many people believed the new technology would be a huge headache, and they were not wrong. The new engines and emissions systems did have their challenges, but 12 years later, the quality of the air we breathe is significantly better.

There are numerous theories about spending money and what goes around comes around. Think about the cost of additional healthcare for people who develop respiratory issues or cancer as a result of the pollution we spill out into our environment. With health care costs skyrocketing, maybe we are paying in additional health care premiums what that new engines would have cost. What if your health suffers as a result of exposure to diesel particulate matter? The little bit of additional profit will pale in comparison to sickness or death. The United States offers a free market place, and we have the right to pursue our business interests. But does business and commerce have the right to pollute the air? The research is clear. Documented studies link diesel particulate matter to serious health and environmental issues. There are plenty of catchy words and rhetoric about leaving the earth a better place for our kids and grandkids, but what about making a difference for mankind today?    

The next time you see or service a DPF, DOC and or an SCR, remember the air you breathe is better as a result of your service. Properly servicing and cleaning diesel emissions systems is a responsibility that should be embraced. You are making a difference for all of us that want clean air to breathe. Since diesel engines have been so widely used and their existence allows for everything that is consumed on a daily basis to be available to the consumer, most of the population is probably ignorant of the damage they cause to our air. 

“Properly servicing and cleaning diesel emissions systems is a responsibility that should be embraced. You are making a difference for all of us that want clean air to breathe.”

Mark Taylor
NARSA/IDEA Executive Director

Most people are ignorant as to how dangerous diesel particulate matter can be to their health. For years, our coal miners were not protected and they were allowed to work in deplorable conditions. Some of the miners did the job because they didn’t think they had alternatives; others did it in the beginning out of ignorance. Now there is technology and science to evaluate the dangers of our activities, and ignorance is no excuse for breathing dirty air. Educate your customers as to the importance of clean diesels and be the resource they can turn to when they have a problem. Deleting the DPF system on diesels is not an option. The air quality needs to be improved, and it is up to the businesses responsible for cleaning the filters to educate their customers as to the importance of these systems. This is not just about making more money; it is about making a difference in the air we breathe. We take air for granted because we cannot always see what we are breathing, and that is the real danger.   

The quality of the air we breathe is the big picture. Profits are secondary.  

Originally published in The Cooling Journal Nov/Dec 2019

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