Noxious emissions from everyday cars and trucks have long been regulated at European level. But the European Commission believes pollution from so-called non-road mobile machinery – which includes everything from bulldozers to chainsaws – is a problem and is seriously considering imposing emission limits on them.
In their efforts to improve air quality in Europe, EU lawmakers adopted a directive in 1997 that restricted emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) from diesel engines installed in non-road mobile machinery (NRMM).
NRMM includes machinery used in the agricultural sector (for example tractors, harvesters, sprayers and chainsaws) and road construction (concrete pavers, cement mixers, bulldozers), railroads as well as inland waterway vessels (IWV), such as barges.
Despite subsequent legislative amendments tightening the controls, the European Commission has found that total NOx and PM emissions from NRMM have continued to grow due in part to the increasing numbers of machines put into service.
Another reason behind the relative increase in pollutants, according to the EU executive, is that emissions standards for road vehicles have become more stringent but equivalent measures for NRMM have lagged behind.
A 2008 study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) predicted that NRMM’s share of total NOx emissions in the EU 15 would grow from 16% in 2005 to 19% in 2020.
Pollutants from diesel engines are one of the principal causes of cancer, according to the World Health Organisation, and a major contributor to the 400,000 premature deaths each year in Europe caused by air pollution.
In major cities such as London, pollution from machines used in roadside labour accounts for 15% of NOx, and 12% of PM emissions, with construction workers exposed to the highest levels.
As part of the directive’s review process, the Commission put several proposals up for discussion withstakeholders in 2013, with a view to meaningfully reduce NRMM emissions.
NRMM that is already regulated — compression engines for example — may have tighter emission restrictions. NRMM that was previously unregulated, such as generators and snowmobile engines, could come under the scope of the directive.
According to the Commission, these kinds of modifications are also necessary because some of the directive’s emissions requirements are not up to date with already available, state-of-the-art technology.
Emission limit changes may not necessarily induce higher R&D costs or technological challenges because many manufacturers export NRMM to more strictly regulated markets such as the US.
A Commission spokesperson confirmed to EurActiv that the legislative proposal shall be unveiled “in the second half of September 2014”.