|Will Diesel Do Us In?
July 18, 2005
Big rigs that rumble through North Richmond neighborhoods, freight trains that idle for hours on train tracks and in rail yards, and cargo ships delivering thousands of foreign cars to Richmond's port are spewing so much diesel exhaust that nearby residents could face serious health problems, according to a report released today.
The report, produced by the Pacific Institute, an environmental policy group in Oakland, says that average diesel emissions near the Richmond Parkway, which cuts from Interstate 80 to Interstate 580 and is near several rail lines, are 40 times higher than average in California.
Some residents who kept monitors in their homes found that weekday levels of soot were four times higher than at a home in Lafayette, which is far removed from industry and heavy truck traffic.
"We are in the belly of the beast, because we get the fallout,'' said Lee Jones of the Neighborhood House of North Richmond.
Jones, who moved to North Richmond five years ago from Oakland, said he is concerned that diesel pollution is affecting the health of his 13-year-old granddaughter, Dominique, who has asthma.
Jones, who kept a pollution monitor in his house for three weeks, said big rigs and trains weren't the only things that create a problem. Construction equipment such as backhoes that are working on new housing developments nearby also caused a spike in diesel readings.
"I used to sit and watch the meter go up and down,'' he said. "If a big truck passed by dropping off equipment, it would set it off.''
Emily Lee, outreach coordinator for the Pacific Institute, said health impacts from diesel pollution can include increases in the rates of cancer, heart disease and premature death, and it can worsen asthma.
Two years ago, the group reported that West Oakland also had high levels of diesel pollution because of traffic around the Port of Oakland. Lee said the institute is working with residents and city officials to establish truck routes to reduce pollution in residential neighborhoods.
Michael Kent, the hazardous materials ombudsman for the Contra Costa Health Services Department, said the new study is the first time anyone has tried to quantify the amount of diesel pollution in the North Richmond and Richmond Parkway area, a low-income area where neighborhoods are built in the shadow of refineries and industrial plants.
"It's important to get a more scientific quantification,'' he said, noting that residents have long complained that they are subjected to heavy pollution because of the industrial uses near the Richmond Parkway, heavy rail traffic and the estimated 7,000 trucks traveling in the area each day.
The diesel report, which will be presented to the city of San Pablo tonight and later to the Richmond City Council and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, proposes solutions to the problems of diesel pollution, including clearly marked truck routes that would prohibit trucks from traveling through residential neighborhoods.
Other recommendations include regulating emissions at rail yards and in the port by reducing engine idling times, encouraging the replacement of older diesel engines with new and cleaner engines, and enforcing laws that prohibit trucks and buses from idling for more than five minutes. It's not unusual for residents to see trucks idling for hours on roadsides, sometimes while the driver naps, Jones said.
Jones said that when he first moved to North Richmond, he noticed black soot on the side of his home, something he had never seen at his former residence in Oakland.
Diesel exhaust has 40 toxic compounds, including formaldehyde, benzene and particulate matter, according to the report. It estimates that more than 90 tons of diesel pollution are released in the Richmond area per year.
West Contra Costa County has a higher rate of asthma hospitalizations, with some ZIP codes showing more than 25 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, compared with Contra Costa County as a whole, which had about 14 hospitalizations per 10,000 residents, according to data from Community Action to Fight Asthma, a network of asthma coalitions.
Jones said residents realize that trucks play a valuable role in transporting goods to and from local businesses, but regulations should be established and enforced to keep pollution to a minimum.
"We do need those businesses out here,'' he said. "There's no animosity. We realize that we need one another.''
To find out more
-- To see the study, go to www.pacinst.org/reports/west_county_diesel. The study was released by a coalition including the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, the Contra Costa Health Services Department, the West County Toxics Coalition, the Neighborhood House of North Richmond and the Community Health Initiative.
-- The report will be presented at tonight's San Pablo City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at 13831 San Pablo Ave.
E-mail Erin Hallissy at email@example.com.