Grocery companies Ralphs, Safeway/Vons and Albertsons/Lucky Stores have settled a two-year California civil lawsuit that accused them of exposing local neighborhoods to cancer-causing exhaust. As part of the settlement, the supermarket companies will spend the next three years replacing 150 of their diesel-powered trucks with alternatively fueled vehicles.

This will likely create the largest pool of alternative-fueled heavy trucks in the nation.
The three grocery companies also agreed to limit diesel-truck idling at their distribution centers to three minutes and to mail bilingual cancer risk warnings to 25,000 neighboring residents.
At the April 27th announcement, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer called it an "historic agreement" because "for the first time companies that generate large amounts of traffic are taking responsibility for the harmful emissions they cause in a particular community."
Understandably, the California Trucking Association was less enthusiastic. "If diesel causes cancer, ban it. But don't blame the trucking companies," said Stephanie Williams, environmental manager of the California Trucking Assn. "It's the government's job to regulate emissions," she added.
The agreement, she said, "will cost every consumer in food and retail goods, while doing little to improve air quality."
Vons and Lucky fleets were already planning to test alternate-fuel technologies when the lawsuit was filed two years ago. The settlement ensures that the programs will go ahead.
"This is the first time that the private sector and public sector have worked together to develop a program to test the feasibility of alternative fuels," said Deborah Lambert, corporate director of public affairs for Safeway Inc., which owns Vons. "That's what we see as a great benefit to this settlement. We hope this will be a model for other businesses elsewhere."
The suits were brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which represented the Coalition for Clean Air and the Environmental Law Foundation. At the announcement of the settlement--the case did not get to court--Gail Ruderman Feuer, a senior attorney with the Los Angeles office of the law firm said, "Somebody has to shake up this industry. Any facility that has trucks going in and out needs to think seriously about their neighbors."
The grocery companies were accused of exposing neighborhoods near distribution centers in Los Angeles, Buena Park, El Monte, Santa Fe Springs and San Leandro to cancer-causing exhaust in violation of Proposition 65, California's anti-toxics law.
A fourth supermarket company, Stater Bros., which operates a distribution center in Colton, was also sued and has not reached a settlement. The Natural Resources Defense Council targeted the supermarket companies because their large distribution centers operate in residential areas and air monitoring showed the cancer risk in some backyards was 10 to 100 times higher than the state's Proposition 65 standard.
The grocery companies say it has not been proven that their distribution centers posed an inordinate cancer risk because the case was settled before trial. Cancer risk estimates from diesel exhaust are highly controversial.
"We are unaware of any substantiated risks, but in order to resolve the suit we agreed to provide the warnings under Prop. 65," said Judy Decker, spokeswoman for Albertsons, which recently merged with Lucky Stores.
CTA's Williams called the environmental groups that filed the litigation "bounty hunters."
"These guys are environmental ambulance chasers looking for people to sue," she said.
The alternate fuel technology for the replacement vehicles is based on natural gas. But while the big three independent diesel engine manufacturers all manufacture 100% natural gas power units, under the settlement, the three companies can choose "dual-fuel" trucks that run 85% natural gas/15% diesel.
The dual-fuel engines in the replacement trucks will be supplied by Caterpillar with an on-cost around $ 25,000 more than equivalent diesels. However, it is estimated grants from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and tax breaks will cover most of the costs for companies.
Vons, which has two distribution centers covered by the settlement, has purchased 30 dual-fuel trucks and will buy 30 more by the end of 2001, said company spokesman Lambert. Ralphs and Albertsons will each buy 25.
Recent demonstrations by, among others, International Truck and Engine Company and Freightliner demonstrate that diesel engines can deliver emissions performance better even than natural gas. At a recent briefing, International showed a next-generation diesel engine with exhaust gas aftertreatment that offers only half the emissions of a natural gas engine, said International engineering vice president Pat Charbonneau.
Freightliner, using a different aftertreatment based on urea injection is partnering with Detroit Diesel and Siemens to test an advanced diesel emissions reduction system in a fleet of eight Argosy Class 8 cabovers operating in California.
The demo is expected to begin in late spring and run for three years or 500,000 miles, whichever comes first. The trucks are spec'd with 12-liter Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines and have a special 30-gallon compartment for urea built into the fuel tank.
The trucks will be owned and operated by flatbed fleet Valley Material Transportation, Inc. of French Camp, CA.