Portable pollution - Page 2

The dirty generators powering a rapidly expanding number of mobile food trucks escape the attention of air quality regulators

Food trucks gather at SOMA Streatfood and other spots, sometimes running dirty generators for hours.

Yet according to SFDPH spokesperson Imelda Rayes, there are now approximately 300 (registered) mobile food facilities in San Francisco. That means the number has nearly tripled since the mere 120 registered MFFs that were scouring the streets in 2009. What they lack in horse power, the generators may make up for in sheer multitude.

"In a period of three years, the number has increased almost 250 percent and [we're] still getting more applications," she said.

In addition to cumulative impacts, there are also questions about the health impacts on food truck employees.

Studies like such as the 2009 "Modeling the Effects of Outdoor Gasoline Powered Generator Use on Indoor Carbon Monoxide Exposures" by academics Liangzhu Wang and Steven Emmerich brings up a different concern: gasoline generators create emissions of poisonous carbon monoxide.

"The generators are always positioned outside of the vehicle. The workers are inside," Lee said. "We would not expect that there is significant employee exposure to the generator exhaust to the employees."

Yet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that half of non-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning incidents in the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons were due to the gas-powered generators used to heat homes, even when placed outside the homes themselves.

Food truck generators, given their smaller size, are often placed much closer to the trucks and their workers than in the case of houses and their inhabitants. Furthermore, the trucks often idle for long periods to keep the food warm and utilities working.

"At this point, it's enough of a new thing...We're interested in finding out more about them, but at this point we are not receiving many complaints," Richardson said. "A lot of variables are involved. It's something I think we will be doing more research on."

After the game of verbal hot potato that was research for this article — it seems every agency deferred to another in terms of exactly who is monitoring these things — Swanton assured us that the danger doesn't seem imminent.

"In general, small engines [portable generators] are dirtier than an engine providing motor power to a vehicle," he said. "But the sheer number of these cleaner engines dwarfs everything."

True, but the food trucks that run for more than a few hours at one location are increasing in numbers at a rapid pace. With the high number of mobile food trucks in operation, most of which utilize some form of generator or another, it may be time to nail down those pesky variables involved and draw some conclusive evidence on the potential environmental and health effects of our city's seemingly innocent snack time.


Ridiculous. What about the excessive carbon dioxide exhaled by the people standing in line?

SF leads the world in excessive handwringing over the minutiae that everyone else realizes doesnt matter in the big picture.

How many food trucks are in SF on a particular day? 50?

100? 100 generators is going to cause the polar icecaps to melt more quickly?

give. me. a. break.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 29, 2012 @ 9:35 am

There should be a flow chart we can all follow to keep track.

Making money is bad go to 1; if not making money goto 9

1. If the persons in general are white goto 2; if not go to 3

2. Since they are white there needs to be more laws and higher taxes goto 4

3. Everything is good, if there are illegal immigrants involved they are too many repressive laws already. Why does the eveil government have to be so authoritarian? goto 5

4. If it involves motor vehicles or unPC profit goto 6; if not go to 7

5. Fight the man, stop this unjust persecution, goto 8

6. Since it involves motor vehicles or plastic bags tax and regulate them out of business.

7. Let them stay open but remember there is a uptight busy body progressive up there asses at all times.

8. Riot and shut down BART!

9. Have John Avalos lobby to make them a non profit and give them tax payer money, if that doesn't work go to 8

Posted by matlock on Sep. 01, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

Granted most of the generators likely have a lower output of emissions than many vehicles use in a fraction of the time;

Do cleaner alternatives exist? Would fuel-cell technology be able to produce enough power for the average food truck?

Posted by Derek @ Truckily on Aug. 29, 2012 @ 11:10 am

weren't here, necessitating many extra car journeys to buy junk food in drive-thru's?

SFBG just hates free-market capitalism in any and every form.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 29, 2012 @ 11:33 am

I'm more concerned at the insistence that we accommodate the latest trends, be they food trucks, parklets or bike tracks.

Who cooked up the idea for first world food trucks to provide a third world dining experience, lemme guess, the people who manufacture and sell food trucks?

How much do these trucks cost?

How many sales are required to pay them down?

How many folks have sunk six figures into these contraptions only to fail within a short time?

How do the competition that these food trucks provide impact existing brick and mortar restaurants?

The City could give a crap about ambient diesel emissions even when there are laws prohibiting them. Every night before 8PM the 1900 block of Mission Street becomes a spontaneous bus depot for casino buses that ferry Asian clients to the games. These buses idle while parked, take up parking that should be used by residents and visitors and blocks the Muni lines.

The City's response is to do nothing.

Posted by marcos on Aug. 29, 2012 @ 11:53 am

Marcos what business is it of yours what the finances of the people who buy food trucks are?

Why should you care what people spend on the trucks?

Posted by Greg on Aug. 29, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

When there is money to be made and a craze is created, the consequences of those bubbles popping impacts us all.

Whether the craze is inducing everyone to go up to their eyeballs in debt, or inducing people to go into hock for a food truck, or condos, or parklets or bike tracks, the herd stampeding in the direction of the fashionable tramples the general good in pursuit of particular greed.

The economics of arising trends are news. I guess to conservatives, the only good herd is a bewildered herd.

Posted by marcos on Aug. 30, 2012 @ 9:42 am

Some of these trucks (and some restaurants) have smokers which generate poisonous wood smoke for hours on end. This needs to be controlled too.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 01, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

Wood smoke smells good.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 01, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

Isn't that picture taken at the food truck coral next to the freeway?

When I ride my bike by there it is usually around five, you can see the cars just sitting up there or crawling along as you go by the food trucks.

This is another get a life moment for our progressives.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 01, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

Amazing Emily found something new to regulate as we don't have enough of regulations already. Have a life girl move to some remote village in Montana and inhale whatever nature has there.

Posted by Matteroffactly on Sep. 10, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

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