Grilling Hamburgers Creates Big Pollution Problem
September 24, 2012

Toxic Burgers – Charbroiling Meat Creates More Pollution Than Semi Trucks

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

If you needed another reason to steer clear of hamburgers for lunch, a group of scientists has concluded that America´s favorite sandwich cannot only be bad for the waist line, it can also be bad for our environment.

Though it may not be shocking for anyone who has ever wondered about the impact of those billowing plumes pouring from the local burger shack, these scientists from the University of California in Riverside have found that burgers may be responsible for much of Southern California´s air pollution. In fact, these charbroiled burgers, steaks and even chicken may be more damning to air quality than 18-wheelers.

In order to test a new device meant to capture some of these emissions, the UC Riverside team engaged in an old-fashioned, 4 hour grilling marathon. Using an exact cooking method – patties in a familiar pattern on the grill, precise cooking times, exact temperatures, etc – these UC Riverside scientists - turned backyard chefs - flipped burgers for 4 hours, measuring the amount of smoke escaping the vents.

“Emissions from commercial char-broilers are a very significant uncontrolled source of particulate matter“¦more than twice the contribution by all of the heavy-duty diesel trucks,” said the principal development engineer for the study at UC Riverside, Bill Welch.

“For comparison, an 18-wheeler diesel-engine truck would have to drive 143 miles on the freeway to put out the same mass of particles as a single charbroiled hamburger patty.”

Burger smoke is much more than pleasant aromas and the sign of a party, as this study points out. When meat is charbroiled on a grill, grease, heat, smoke, water vapor and other combustion products are released into the air. When these grills are loaded down with meat and firing for multiple hours at a time, as is common for restaurants, the amount of emissions let into the air can be quite dangerous. According to the press release for this study, for all the smoke billowing out of these restaurants, very few emissions regulations exist for restaurants.

A 2007 study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) had concluded that these restaurants provide the second-largest air quality threat to the South Coast Air Basin.

This recent study, funded by the SCAQMD and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), takes this previous research even farther, suggesting that 18-wheelers may be the lesser of two evils when it comes to air pollution.

Welch and his UC Riverside team are now working on a proposed control for these dangerous particulates which are released into the air as a by-product of charbroiling. This device captures the smoke from the grill, filtering out the grease and trapping it in canisters of water. This little contraption was tested last week as the team engaged in their big burger grillathon.

“Our goal is to find something cost-effective and technically feasible to reduce the smoke,” said Welch, speaking to CBS Los Angeles.

While the results of this study might not be welcomed in the beef or foodservice industries, one group is embracing this study as proof positive that their hard work is paying off.

"While the primary focus of this new study was on emissions from commercial char-broilers, this comparison clearly illustrates the significant improvements from clean diesel technology on California's air quality. In fact, the study also found that the particulate matter (PM) inventory from commercial cooking is more than double the inventory from heavy-duty diesel trucks," said Allen Shaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a non-profit, educational organization which supports the diesel and diesel truck industries.

In a press statement, Schaefer made mention that it was a little odd for his organization to be praising these statistics, saying: "I will say this is an extremely unusual comparison. Generally, clean diesels are matched up against natural gas, hybrids or electric vehicles for emissions or fuel efficiency tests. This is the first time we've gone head-to-head against fast food."