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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Technology Note: Smog Dogs

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new method for catching drivers who avoid emissions inspection checks.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, your letters. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Cars around the country are supposed to undergo routine checks to measure the levels of pollutants spewing out of their tailpipes. But most serious polluters avoid inspection stations. Starting next month, drivers in northern Virginia will be unwitting participants in a new pilot program to catch folks who kept their polluting cars under wraps. Teams of testers will set up their high tech gear, nicknamed Smog Dogs, at selected, highly trafficked intersections.

From one side of the street, a beam of infrared light will be shot through a car's exhaust. The amount of infrared light that passes through the car's exhaust to the other side of the street allows testers to measure concentrations of pollutants. A video camera records the vehicle's license plate numbers. During the nine month trial run, the results will be used only to test the effectiveness of northern Virginia's current inspection program. Eventually, officials hope to use the system to target violators and force them to clean up their emissions. Cars that pass the test will be sent a notice waiving the next regular check-up. But some folks worry this program will end up targeting people who can't afford newer cars. So, one Virginia legislator has introduced a bill to subsidize people who don't have the cash to clean up their old clunkers. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.


CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Delerium, "Heaven's Earth"]



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