Integration of Analysis and Deliberation to Evaluate Biodiesel Occupational and Environmental Exposures

Nora M. Traviss (2008)

Many U.S. organizations interested in a renewable and domestic source of energy are considering switching from petroleum diesel to biodiesel blends for transportation and heavy-duty equipment use. Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils or waste grease. While there is a considerable body of evidence on the negative health effects of petroleum diesel exhaust exposures in occupational and urban settings, there has been little research examining the impact of biodiesel fuel on occupational and environmental exposures. This dissertation combined a collaborative exposure assessment of B20 (20% soy-based biodiesel/80% diesel) at a rural recycling center with a policy intervention to deliberate the results of this analysis and potential policy outcomes. I applied the National Research Council’s (1996) analytic-deliberative model to connect the collaborative exposure assessment with a Biodiesel Working Group, which catalyzed policy decisions about the manufacture and use of biodiesel in Keene, NH.

Researchers and undergraduate students from Keene State College and employees from the City of Keene Department of Public Works quantitatively estimated diesel and biodiesel exposure profiles for particulate matter (< 2.5 microns diameter), elemental carbon, organic carbon, and nitrogen dioxide using standard occupational and environmental air monitoring methods. I collected qualitative data to examine the genesis, evolution and outcomes of the Biodiesel Working Group. Integrating analysis and deliberation led to a number of positive outcomes related to local use of B20 in nonroad engines. Particulate matter and elemental carbon concentrations were significantly reduced (60% and 22% respectively) during B20 use at the field site. Organic carbon levels were significantly higher (370%) during B20 use. Although NO2 levels were 19% higher, this increase was not statistically significant. Connecting the analysis with deliberation improved the quality of the exposure assessment, increased dissemination of the research results in the local community, and catalyzed novel policy outcomes, including the development of a unique public/private partnership to manufacture biodiesel locally from waste grease.

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