traffic of about 100 to 130 trains a day. The yard emitted
an estimated 27.9 tons of diesel pollutants in 2005.
Barstow railyard emissions seen as increased risk of cancer
Residents near yards in other cities worse off
By Abby Sewell, Staff Writer
BARSTOW — Barstow’s railyard emits more diesel pollution than any other yard in the state, meaning that people who live near by are at a heightened risk for cancer, according to a study.
The BNSF Barstow Railyard emitted almost 28 tons of diesel pollutants into the air in 2005, according to a risk assessment completed by the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. It was the highest level of emissions found in any of the 17 yards that the air board studied. Air board and BNSF representatives presented the results at a meeting at Barstow’s City Hall on Wednesday night.
People living closest to the railyard face a 25 times higher risk of cancer from air contamination than people living a mile and half away, the study stated. However, Barstow residents are not at the highest risk of the cities studied.
The air board found that people living near the BNSF San Bernardino railyard are at the highest risk of cancer relating to diesel pollution even though the yard emits less pollutants than Barstow’s yard. About 3,780 people in San Bernardino have increased risk of 500 chances in a million or more due to the railyard pollution. That level of risk does not exist in Barstow, said the air board’s engineering evaluation section manager Harold Holmes. San Bernardino also has a higher level of underlying air contamination than Barstow.
Holmes said that the high winds in Barstow, which generally blow from southwest to the northeast, carry most of the air contamination from the railyard away from the residential areas of Barstow.
BNSF representatives said the company is taking measures to decrease its railyard emissions, including installing equipment to reduce the amount of engine idling and making a switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.
Mike Stanfill of BNSF projected that with the current emissions-reduction plans, total emissions in the Barstow yard will be reduced by 28 percent in 2020, assuming a four percent growth rate in the yard’s operations.
BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said that freight trains create less emissions than semi trucks per ton-mile. In the Barstow area, the air board study showed traffic on Interstate 15 and other local roadways emitted about 26 tons of diesel pollutants in 2005. Barstow has one of the busiest railyards in the state, with 100 to 130 trains passing through each day, Holmes said. The locomotive traffic accounts for about 97 percent of the diesel pollution emitted from the yard, with the other 3 percent coming from off-road vehicles, trucks and other equipment.
Andrea Hricko, an associate professor in preventative medicine at the University of Southern California, believes that voluntary measures may not do enough to decrease emissions. Diesel emissions are associated not only with cancer but with asthma and other health issues, she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency lists one in one million as an acceptable level of risk for cancer due to lifetime air pollutant exposure, but cleanup requirements generally only expect contaminants to be brought down to a 10 in one million risk level, according to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
Holmes said that pollution from the BNSF Barstow yard could become more of a concern as the population grows, especially if development occurs to the northeast of the railyard.
Marsha Weasma, who lives off Main Street facing B Hill, said she was not surprised to see that her house’s location puts her at a heightened risk of cancer, but the numbers still cause her some concern. Weasma was one of only four citizens who showed up at the air board meeting on Wednesday. She said more of her neighbors would likely have come if the event had been better publicized.
As for the pollution reduction measures outlined, she said, “It sounds good in theory, but it’s like, is it going to be put into practice? ... It’s probably 20 years too late.”
Holmes said the ARB will be accepting public comments on the draft health risk assessment for the next 30 days and will be releasing a final version of the assessment within 45 days. After that, another meeting will be held in Barstow to help the air board develop a plan for mitigating the health risks.
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Tons of diesel pollutants emitted by selected California railyards in 2005:
• BNSF Barstow: 27.9
• BNSF Hobart: 23.9
• BNSF San Bernardino: 22
• Union Pacific Oakland: 11.2
• Union Pacific Los Angeles: 7.3
• BNSF San Diego: 1.7
Number of people experiencing a heightened cancer risk due to diesel pollution from the BNSF Barstow Railyard:
• Cancer risk heightened by 250 or more chances in a million: 860 people
• Cancer risk heightened by 100 to 250 chances in a million: 3,600 people
• Cancer risk heightened by 50 to 100 chances in a million: 5,000 people
• Cancer risk heightened by 25 to 50 chances in a million: 6,500 people
• Cancer risk heightened by 10 to 25 chances in a million: 6,100 people
Risk of cancer due to air pollution in Barstow, not taking into account the railyard: 120 chances in a million.
Source: Draft Health Risk Assessment for the BNSF Barstow Railyard, California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board.