Metrolink Health Study Released, But Residents Want More
Almost a year and half after they agreed to conduct the study, Metrolink has released the results of its long-awaited Health Risk Assessment (HRA) report on its Central Maintainance Facility (CMF), located in Cypress Park right by Rio de los Angeles State Park and within one mile of schools and parks such as the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies, Aragon Avenue Elementary School, and Elyria Canyon Park. The facility is also just across the L.A. River from residences and businesses in Elysian Valley. The report has found promising results, but residents and community stakeholders say the study hasn’t gone far enough.
The report, released earlier this month, found that on the long-term, harmful emissions from idling trains is on a declining trend and would eventually drop to 79 percent less than it was in 2010, due to its continuing work such as implementing a fuel conservation program, reducing the number of weekday trains, and upgrading its equipment. By 2017, it the maintenance facility would contribute only 30 percent of total emissions within one mile, versus 38 percent in 2010.
Cancer risks associated with exposure to harmful diesel particulate matter (DPM) coming from the facility will similarly fall 83 percent from 2010. In contrast, Metrolink’s report points out that the cancer risk due to exposure to DPM outside the one-mile radius will only decline 74 percent in the same period, citing the 5 freeway as a major source of risk.
Despite the good news, some Elysian Valley residents and stakeholders aren’t satisfied. Resident Grove Pashley is part of a vocal group seeking to determine just how much risk they’re facing because of the CMF’s proximity to the neighborhood. “We originally asked for a more extensive health risk assessment. What Metrolink gave us is inadequate,” said Pashley. “This report shows health effects over a long term of 70, 40, and 30 years. We wanted a study focused on more short-term results. They wouldn’t give it to us. The report doesn’t really tell us what our dangers are and that’s what we’re really after.”
The Metrolink study only modeled health effects for a person exposed to DPM, 24 hours a day, 350 days a year, for 70 and 30 years. Another model also predicted health risks for someone exposed 24 hours a day, 245 days a year, for 40 years.
“Elysian Valley and Cypress Park residents have the right to know that everything possible is being done to ensure that rail operations are not negatively impacting their families,” said Rep. Adam Schiff from Burbank, who has supported the community in urging Metrolink to undertake the HRA. “It is clear from the HRA that important progress has been made, but much more remains to be done.”
In the meantime, residents and stakeholders are still searching for answers. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is now gearing up for an HRA of its own, assessing short-term risk with the support of LAUSD Board Member Bennett Kayser.
Though LAUSD has been part of the community meetings with Metrolink over the past three years, it has now taken a more active role to bridge the gap of information presented by Metrolink’s HRA. At the helm is Bill Piazza, the Environmental Assessment Coordinator from LAUSD’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS). The agency routinely administers health and safety to ensure building healthy, sustainable schools.
“It’s really important to understand risk over long terms, but part of a risk assessment is also looking at short duration exposures,” said Piazza. “Within communities, school district kids might be out in the play yard or exercising. Or, there could be individuals with compromised respiratory systems and a bad air day could exacerbate that existing condition. Long-term exposures are not going to answer that question.”
According to Piazza, he will be building on Metrolink’s report. Using the same data and models as in the Metrolink study, but applying it differently, OEHS can predict effects of exposure in duration as short as one hour. Piazza is targeting to finalize a report by February next year, in time for a community meeting on Metrolink CMF health risks. Piazza will also take the opportunity to review Metrolink’s assumptions, ensuring that its basis wasn’t overly conservative.
In the meantime, Rep. Schiff is working on the technology side of the equation. “Metrolink has already committed to an expanded ground power program, an electric rail car mover, a fuel conservation program, and the purchase of 20 new Tier 4 locomotives. We can assist these efforts at the federal level in the Appropriations process and through letters to the Department of Transportation in support of Metrolink’s efforts,” said Schiff.
His office is also planning to help the agency secure funds for purchasing hoods that would clean exhaust from trains better and upgrading older trains to reduce emissions. The cost for such equipment can run up to millions.