Diesel Health Project, Community and National Organizations work to make Argentine a healthier place

The Diesel Health Project has achieved its first objective – to monitor for dangerous levels of diesel exhaust pollution the BNSF rail yards in Kansas City, and Gardner/Edgerton,  Kansas, and to raise the alarm if we found any. Our role – canary in the coal mine!

Leticia DeCaigny  in Kansas City Star "Diesel fumes near KCK rail yard post health threat"
Leticia DeCaigny  in Kansas City Star Diesel fumes near KCK rail yard post health threat..

Diesel exhaust air pollution is known to cause cancer and trigger asthma attacks, and has been linked to many other serious health problems, including asthma, autism, birth defects, brain damage, decreased intelligence in children, dementia, heart attacks, hyperactivity, heightened anxiety, preterm birth and low birth weight, premature death, respiratory disease, strokes, suicide, and underdeveloped lungs.

To do this work, we partnered with a local group, the Argentine/Turner Good Neighbor Committee, an international monitoring organization, Global Community Monitor,  and the Kansas Sierra Club.  Funding for air quality monitoring was provided by the Kresge Foundation.

Our baseline monitoring in Gardner/Edgerton, done before the new BNSF intermodal railyard was generating a lot of truck traffic, found no problems.  We will revisit the issue when more freight containers and heavy diesel trucks are operating.

Monitoring  in Kansas City, Kansas, conducted by the Argentine/Turner Good Neighbor Committee with technical support from Global Community Monitor, was another story.  That monitoring uncovered evidence of high levels of diesel exhaust pollution in the yards of Argentine residents near the BNSF Argentine Railyard.

The indicator used for diesel exhaust pollution was levels of elemental carbon (EC) in the air.   Mark Chernaik of Science for Citizens, talked about the health risks of this air pollution:

“Overall, seven of sixteen EC levels in filtered air samples collected since the beginning of the project in November 2013 are above a level associated with a short-term health risk. Notably, the seven filtered air samples with EC levels associated with a short-term health risk are generally closer (within 200 meters) to the BNSF Railway facility than samples with lower EC levels, which were generally further (more than 1000 meters) from the Santa Fe railway facility.”

Since then, the Argentine/Turner Good Neighbor Committee identified the  primary source of the dangerous air pollution as the BNSF locomotive maintenance shop, at which up to 70 locomotives are parked at a time, many running, upwind from the homes of Argentine residents.

BNSF Argentine Rail Yard locomotive maintenance facility
BNSF Argentine Rail Yard locomotive maintenance facility

We’ve initiated conversations with the BNSF Railway, and asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  Region 7 office for assistance.  They have been very helpful.

Because of the community’s concern regarding air quality, the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) selected the Argentine Public Library in Kansas City, Kansas as one of a handful of sites in the country for testing the innovative Village Green Project park bench monitoring stations in the country.

This Saturday May 2, EPA and KDHE are sponsoring the Village Green Kansas Press Event and All Things Air – Community Fair at the Argentine Public Library on Saturday, May 2, from 10:30 to 1:30.   The Argentine/Turner Good Neighbor Committee and  Diesel Health Project will staff an event table.

We will distribute information sheets on the risks of diesel exhaust pollution, how to minimize exposure to it, and much more, prepared by students in the University of Kansas Environmental Studies Program.

The Village Green Project park bench monitoring station provides real time data on fine particles and ozone, both very dangerous to human health, as well as meteorological data, all publicly available online at the Village Green Project Web Site.

Village Green air monitoring bench at the Argentine Public Library. Source: EPA
Village Green air monitoring bench at the Argentine Public Library. Source: EPA

Going beyond  that, the EPA has committed to building a stronger partnership with the Argentine community, working with the community to further enhance understanding and awareness of air quality through outreach and training, and at our request, exploring options for monitoring diesel soot (black carbon) and ultrafine particles.’

A black carbon monitor will provide real-time alerts of diesel exhaust pollution levels.

The EPA had planned to include a black carbon monitor within the Village Green park bench monitoring station, but a suitable monitor is not yet available on the market.  The EPA is working with private sector firms to develop such a monitor.

A couple of days ago,  EPA  also invited two members of our team to Community Air Monitoring Training this summer.

In partnership with the national Moving Forward Network, Children’s Mercy Hospital Center for Environmental Health,  the KU Environmental Studies Program, the Kansas Sierra Club, and the Kansas Sierra Club, We also submitted an Environmental Justice proposal to the EPA that will, if granted,  will deliver the following results

  • Identification of the neighborhoods most overburdened by goods movement air pollution;
  • Residents in the three most overburdened neighborhoods trained regarding the risks of diesel exhaust exposure, how they can reduce their personal and family exposure, and how can work together to improve the health of the community;
  • Use the EPA Collaborative Problem Solving Model  to collaboratively identify issues, develop a vision and set goals in those neighborhoods, and
  • Develop collaborative relationships between and among  Kansas City, Kansas community groups, a regional clean air coalition now under development, community health organizations, environmental, public health, and other academic programs throughout the region, as well as with other members of the national Moving Forward Network.

We applaud EPA Region 7, the EPA Office of Research and Development, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the focus they are placing on the Argentine community.