At West LB Association meeting, former EPA chairman updates residents on rail yard pollution

Athena Mekis
Staff Writer

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<strong>Graphic showing the proposed area for the new Southern Californian International Gateway, a near-dock intermodal rail facility, which is expected to increase the number of trucks on the 710 Freeway.</strong>

Graphic showing the proposed area for the new Southern Californian International Gateway, a near-dock intermodal rail facility, which is expected to increase the number of trucks on the 710 Freeway.

The West Long Beach Association (WLBA) hosted UCLA professor and scientist Dr. John Froines at the Silverado Community Center Sept. 22 to discuss his team’s new findings on air pollution.
The meeting is in response to the Burlington North Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Company’s proposal to build a second rail yard called the Southern Californian International Gateway (SCIG), which will be located near PCH, the 710 Freeway and the 405 Freeway.
“There will be two-and-a-half million more trucks going through our back yard,” said John Cross, vice president for the WLBA, in opposition to the proposed rail yard.
According to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB) website, from 1991 to 1998, Froines acted as chair of the Department of Environmental Health Services, which concluded that diesel exhaust poses strong cancer risks.
The new, two-year research finding, titled “Toxicologic Pathways of Rail Yard Emission Exposure on Non-Cancer Health Impacts,” confirms that fossil fuel combustion, which occurs at sites such as the Wilmington/Carson oil refineries, the Long Beach and Los Angeles shipping ports, airports, freeways and railways, causes particulate matter which then causes cardiovascular disease, asthma, birth defects and much more.
“The real impact comes from the ultrafine particles,” Froines said at Thursday’s meeting. Ultrafine particles enter deep into the lungs of all people but mutate and bond with the lungs’ cells in children, causing persistent health problems until old age, according to Froines.
According to the ARB website, people who live within 500 feet of the BNSF Railway suffer from higher rates of asthma because their lungs do not fully grow.
Hudson K-8 School, which is located about 700 feet from the BNSF rail yard, has the highest asthma rates of all Long Beach schools, the ARB reported.
Froines said that Los Angeles’s air pollution settles in Riverside, where it has mutated into the strongest type of pollutants.
The solution will not be found in science, Froines said. “The solution is political.” He does not argue that diesel use should be eliminated. Instead, he stresses that short-term victories will stimulate environmental progress.
Hudson School’s short-term solution has been installing air filters in each classroom.
Forty-four-year-old truck driver Glenn Amaya’s short-term solution was adding additives to his diesel truck, reducing carbon and nitrogen emissions from 40 to 20 percent.
Unfortunately for Amaya, who was at the WLBA meeting, the Port of Los Angeles in 2008 began enforcing the Clean Truck Program, which banned some trucks and applied heavy emission enforcements on the rest. For Amaya and other truck drivers, it costs around $15,000 to $25,000 to retrofit a truck to proper emission standards, according to Amaya.
“The new laws have eliminated the middle class in the trucking industry,” he said.
According to Cross, the WLBA is advocating for an on-dock railway, which will keep pollutants farther away from West Long Beach. 7th District Councilmember James Johnson, whose district includes West Long Beach, is advocating for zero-emissions, electric trucks.

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