Docs to Pritzker: Truck diesel pollution is killing Illinoisans

Doctors ask the governor to commit to targets for replacing diesel engine vehicles with electric models.

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A semitruck drives in a residential area of Chicago.

Some Chicago communities, such as Little Village, have an abundance of diesel truck traffic, and that’s contributing to early deaths and disease, doctors say.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times file

More than 130 doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to save Illinoisans’ lives by speeding up the state’s transition to electric trucks that will reduce the amount of diesel fuel air pollution.

In a letter to the governor this week, the health professionals asked Pritzker to sign a pact with a group of other states that are setting goals for phasing out diesel fuel engines with near-term targets as early as 2030.

“Emissions from diesel truck engines are particularly harmful for the health of communities,” the doctors wrote in their letter. “This is especially true in lower-income communities and communities of color, which too often bear disproportionate health burdens due to increased pollution exposures from freeways, railyards, warehouses and other freight hubs.”

Pritzker has declined to sign on and, earlier this year, cited concerns about the impact on businesses. Pritzker didn’t provide a direct answer to the request in a statement from a spokesman this week and, instead, pointed to an electric vehicle rebate program now being offered.

Across Illinois, fine particle pollution from trucks will cause more than 400 early deaths, nearly 200 heart attacks and thousands of respiratory illnesses in 2023, a report released last May found.

That same report found Cook County among the dirtiest in the state for diesel particle pollution. Chicago, with more than two dozen industrial corridors, draws thousands of trucks each day, contributing to air pollution.

Citing the May report from Chicago’s Respiratory Health Association, the doctors said in their letter that Illinois ranks among the top five states in the country for per capita deaths from diesel pollution, trailing only California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

The health providers signed the letter at the urging of a coalition led by the RHA, the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and Warehouse Workers for Justice known as NET-Z.

A group of states, including California, New York, Pennsylvania and more than a dozen others, signed the nonbinding agreement on phasing out diesel.

Illinois lawmakers passed resolutions in 2021 urging the governor to join those states and sign the agreement.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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