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Health, Science, Environment

Local tugboats to run cleaner with help of federal grant

Some Mississippi River tugboats will be getting an upgrade thanks to a federal grant aimed at reducing air pollution.

The more than $300,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will go toward new, cleaner-burning diesel engines for the tugboats.

One of those boats was on view this morning at JB Marine Service, Inc., the barge cleaning and repair company that received the EPA grant.

The company’s chief financial officer, David Heyl, says the new engines will reduce the tugboats’ fuel consumption by more than 25 percent.

“We will burn somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 gallons of diesel fuel a month,” Heyl said. “And that’s between eight boats, five cranes, and quite a few generators. And so a 25 to 30 percent reduction in any one part adds up to be a lot of money.”

Heyl estimates the company can save anywhere from $6,000 to $12,000 a month by outfitting four tugboats with the new, more efficient engines.

The grant to JB Marine Service, Inc., is one of many the EPA awards each year, as part of a national program to reduce pollution from industrial diesel engines.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks says since 2007, the program has distributed about $250 million to rebuild and replace diesel engines like those found in buses, trains, and construction machinery.

He says in a port city like St. Louis, old boat engines are a major source of diesel pollution — and upgrading them can help improve air quality.

“We’re reducing pollution from these marine engines about 25 percent, which is thousands of tons, up and down the river, every year, that’s not going to be in the air in St. Louis,” Brooks said.

Diesel smoke contains small particles and other pollutants that can cause lung damage, cancer, and other health problems.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUscience

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