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December 2017
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Balancing the environment
...at what cost?

Less is more, in more ways than one.

Fewer emissions from forklift tailpipes – as required by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules now taking effect – is more healthy for humans and the earth, the EPA says.

It also makes forklifts cost more upfront, but can save money in labor time not lost to illness, the agency said.

“Anytime additional components are added to the engine to meet new emission standards, there will typically be an added expense in the production of the forklift,” said Jeff Mueller, manager of vehicle safety standards engineering for Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America.

EPA says the costs of complying adds about 3 percent to the purchase price.

Tier 4 standards take effect this year, with the final standards taking effect in 2014. By that time, particle matter and nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced by more than 90 percent.

“Their (forklifts) emissions will be comparable to those of new heavy-duty highway trucks on the road today,” the EPA said.

EPA calls the standards stringent but feasible. The health benefits will be substantial, it says, with estimates of 12,000 fewer premature deaths, 8,900 fewer hospitalizations and the avoidance of one million lost work days by 2030. The agency says the monetary benefits, about $80 billion per year, outweigh the costs by 40 to 1.

“There’s a transition going on from (tier) 3 to 4,” said John Blanke Jr., general manager of Blanke Industries, an Illinois company that makes equipment to test tailpipe emissions. He described the next tier as “tightening the existing standards. They haven’t changed things significantly. They haven’t added any new gases to measure.”

The law is directed toward manufacturers, not end-users, he said. Existing forklifts do not have to be retrofitted.

“Manufacturers that have to meet it will tell you that it’s stringent. It adds cost to engine design, and adds cost to customers,” he said.

Most end-users are more familiar with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules than EPA. While OSHA is clear about penalties, with EPA rules, no penalties are listed.

“We hear from customers that it’s confusing,” Blanke said. “Safety is a different issue than environmental protection. EPA is trying to enforce this as an environmental issue. The government is telling the forklift manufacturers that they have to make them this way.

Then, when an end-user goes to buy a new forklift, they want to know why it is more expensive than the one they bought two years ago. The manufacturer then says ‘the government made us add all these bells and whistles to make it cleaner.’”

Cleaner air is the goal. When air quality in a factory or warehouse declines to an unsafe level, people report signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Blanke Industries’ equipment is handheld, portable and used by technicians that maintain vehicles. “Our equipment is a repair guide for professional service technicians” to keep forklifts operating safely. “It is not used by the government to certify and test.” Government tests can’t be replicated outside a laboratory, Blanke said.

“Our tools are used to find the source” of the air quality problem, he said, and to take tailpipe measurements that can diagnose and lead to adjustment or repair of the engine.

No matter what kind of fuel a forklift uses, it can affect air quality, he said. “Everything that burns fuel adds to air quality in work areas. There are hundreds of gases in a tailpipe,” but carbon monoxide is the one that attracts the most interest because it can do the most harm.

“A lot of people look at emissions testing as something they’re forced to do by the government,” Blanke said.


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