HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A proposal to require all vehicles in Hawaii to install special filters to pick up "road dust" isn't making headway at the Legislature even though supporters said filters are needed to protect people from asthma and other breathing problems.
At Kauluwela Elementary School in Kalihi, it's loud in the cafeteria at lunch time but listen closely and besides the din of schoolchildren, the sound of traffic is very loud, even during lunch time when the facility is full of kids.
That's because the H-1 Freeway was built right below the school. A test on campus last year found levels of "road dust" that's 25-percent higher than recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's known as particulate matter: the fine particles from tires, brake wear, and asphalt.
Retired EPA scientist Gene Tierney heads a nonprofit group called Hawaii Cares, which did the test last year.
"Particulate matter is pretty nasty stuff. We've got metals and hydrocarbons and other things that get in deep into your lungs and they can cause lung cancer, lung disease, asthma and other respiratory problems," Tierney said. "A lot of people think 'Oh, with the tradewinds, all our problems blow away.' Well with the increase in traffic that's occurred over the last twenty or thirty years, there's more and more pollution coming out of the brakes and tires of vehicles, as well as out of the tail pipes."
Tierney spent 32 years at the EPA, where he studied emissions standards for vehicles.
Kauluwela's principal Gwen Lee said she's seen the effect on her 408 students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
"We have noticed that we've had an increase in the number of children with asthma. And they have to carry medications to school to administer during the day," Lee said. "I don't think it's healthy."
Jeff Krantz owns a company called StreetVac that has produced self-adhesive filters that affix into a vehicle's wheel wells to pick up that black gunk known as "particulate matter" from roadways.
For several years, Krantz has been trying to convince state lawmakers to make Hawaii the first state in the country to require the installation of these filters on every vehicle.
"It's a very unfortunate thing that Hawaii is not taking a leading role and a pro-active approach because these kids are in a condensed community. We live on a small island with a lot of traffic. And they're being harmed on a daily basis," Krantz said.
He said the filters would cost about $5 per vehicle and would need to be replaced annually.
"If you can afford a gallon of gas. If you can afford the insurance on your car, you certainly can afford to start collecting the pollution that's harming people," Krantz said.
But the head of a lobbying group that represents truckers and bus companies said the effort is misguided.
"If it is a big problem across the nation, we should be engaging the brake component manufacturers and tire manufacturers to see why there's a problem and how can we resolve that. And that will have a widespread impact," said Gareth Sakakida, managing director of the Hawaii Transportation Association, which represents 430 bus, trucking and other transport companies in the islands.
The filter proposal has been stuck at the committee level at the legislature and appears to be dead for this session. A State Senate proposal never got a public hearing in the Transportation or Ways and Means committees.
While the filter technology is not being used commercially in the United States, Krantz said his company has a contract with the city of London to provide a fleet of government vehicles with the filters.
StreetVac has also licensed the technology to the national government of the Philippines, Krantz said.
Last year, a proposal to require the state Department of Transportation to try a pilot program to capture particulate matter on 100 state vehicles failed to pass the legislature.
And in 2011, a proposal similar to this year's measure to require road pollution filters as part of annual safety inspections also died. The state DOT opposed the bill, saying in written testimony "until information about the filters and the filters are readily available, it is premature to require all vehicle owners to install them."
The city's Customer Service Department, which oversees motor vehicle registration, also was against the 2011 bill, which required installation of the filters by July 1, 2012. The department said it did not believe there was enough time for owners of all 1.1 million registered vehicles in the state to buy and install filters within that time frame.
"I can have these filters available at Longs Drugs within one month," Krantz said. "We have to start somewhere."