Which is Worse for Air Quality: “Burger Smog” or Truck
|Nov. 2, 2012
By Barry R. Wallerstein, AQMD's Executive Officer
Recent news articles have reported that charbroiling burgers creates more air
pollution than trucks. While charbroiling is a large source of pollution,
heavy-duty trucks pose a much bigger overall problem for the Southland’s air
In fact, if left uncontrolled, restaurant charbroiling of burgers and other
meats does produce more fine particulate pollution, known as PM2.5, than all
big-rig trucks in the region -- but only if you compare just the PM2.5
directly emitted by each source. Unlike charbroilers, trucks are the No. 1
source of nitrogen oxide emissions, a pollutant that forms PM2.5 in the
atmosphere. When this is taken into account, trucks are responsible for
nearly three times the PM2.5 produced by restaurant charbroiling.
In addition, it is well documented that diesel emissions are a potent
carcinogen and responsible for about 85 percent of the total cancer risk
from air pollution.
What can be done to reduce truck emissions? New trucks must meet tailpipe
standards requiring sophisticated pollution controls. That’s why new trucks
are many times cleaner than older models. However, trucks have a long
service life and it will take years if not decades for the dirty diesels in
today’s trucking fleet to be replaced by newer, cleaner models. That’s why
AQMD has provided millions of dollars in incentive funds to replace
thousands of aging dirty diesel trucks with new, cleaner models, especially
in areas heavily impacted by diesel exhaust including the ports of Los
Angeles and Long Beach and warehouses in the Inland Empire.
While trucks present one of the toughest challenges to improving air quality,
the impact of commercial meat charbroiling shouldn’t be underestimated.
Commercial “under-fired” charbroilers emit more than 9 tons per day of fine
particulate (PM2.5) because they have no pollution controls. (AQMD has
required pollution controls since 1997 on so-called chain-driven
charbroilers, used at restaurants such as Burger King and Carl’s Jr.
However, the majority of commercial charbroilers in use are under-fired.)
AQMD has also conducted research since the early 1990s to quantify commercial
charbroiling emissions and test potential control devices for them. While
emissions have been quantified, researchers and manufacturers are still
developing and commercializing cost-effective control devices. That’s why
AQMD has contracted with UC Riverside’s CE-CERT to evaluate five different
control devices. AQMD hopes that one or more can be demonstrated in local
restaurants in the near future.
If the control devices adequately reduce pollution and are cost-effective, and
if further PM2.5 emission reductions are needed to meet the federal health
standard for PM2.5, AQMD may consider adopting a regulation requiring
controls for under-fired charbroilers at larger restaurants. As with all
AQMD regulations, staff will carefully evaluate the economic impacts on the
restaurant industry and AQMD’s Governing Board will develop policies taking
into account both public health benefit and the cost to the restaurant
In spite of dramatic progress in cleaning the air, residents of Southern
California and the Inland Empire in particular suffer some of the worst air
quality in the nation. We need to further reduce emissions from all sources,
including big-rig trucks and restaurant charbroilers, to meet our clean air
goals and protect public health.
This page updated:
November 07, 2012