Puerto Rico has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A common source of lung irritation? Pollution from diesel emissions.

This is why Nesmarie Negron, an environmental engineer based in the Environmental Protection Agency’s New York City office, recently spent several months in Puerto Rico, encouraging private and public stakeholders to participate in EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign. The goal is to significantly reduce diesel emissions by using cleaner fuels, retrofitting and repairing existing fleets, and reducing the amount of time that engines idle.

While she was in her native Puerto Rico, Negron — who graduated from Princeton in 2002 with a degree in chemical engineering — also helped develop another EPA program, Clean School Bus USA, whose goal is to reduce emissions from buses. She coordinated Puerto Rico’s first retrofitting of a school bus with a diesel oxidation catalyst. The retrofit is expected to cut the bus’s particulate emissions by 20 percent, hydrocarbons by 50 percent, and carbon monoxide by at least 60 percent.

WAPA Noticentro 4 interviewed

Negron about her work while she was in Puerto Rico.

By the way, Negron did her senior thesis on diesel engines at Princeton under the guidance of fuel-cell innovator Jay Benzinger, whom many alumni place in Princeton’s pantheon of great teachers.

Photo, courtesy EPA: Nesmarie Negron is interviewed by Lesley Cruz of Puerto Rico’s WAPA Noticentro 4.