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CARB deploys new tech to check semi-trucks emission pollution

On an average day, there are roughly 3,500 semi-truck crossings at the border at the Otay Mesa Land Port of Entry.

It is the busiest commercial port in California and these trucks are the backbone of the state's economy, bringing in goods from south of the border.

But they are also a major contributor to pollution.


"The trucks are responsible for roughly 50% of all the pollutants that we see in the air in California," said Randall Opfer, an air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

He said these diesel trucks emit particulate matter that is hazardous for your health — especially for those living in industrial areas, such as Barrio Logan.

"Diesel particulate matter has actually been found to be responsible for up to 70% of the known cancer risk in the state of California — 70% coming from one source. So we know that because we've done studies," Opfer said. "We know that in areas where there's high truck traffic, there are higher cancer rates a lot of times."

That’s why CARB developed the Portable Emission Acquisition System, or PEAQS. It will allow the agency to screen more trucks to catch ones that don’t meet California’s emission standards and they can be deployed anywhere.

The mobile system checks for emissions by drawing air through plastic pipes connected to a mobile trailer. Analyzers connected to the trailer then send data to the computers that give real-time readouts of how much particulate matter was emitted and the levels of carbon dioxide, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide — gases that contribute to smog and acid train.


Trucks that do not meet California emission standards are sent for secondary inspection. Those that fail the secondary inspection are given a citation that could range from a fix-it ticket to several thousand dollars in fines for serious violations.

This is all part of the Heavy-Duty Inspection and Maintenance Program signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019. The program aims to ensure heavy-duty trucks’ emissions remain low for their entire service life.

“It'll actually improve the cost situation for the truck themselves because this system is designed to make sure they're operating as they were designed from the factory, reducing repair cost,” Opfer said.

And that will lower the travel cost, which in turn will lower prices for transported goods, he said.