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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Group emphasize health risk of proposed rail hub

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Federal regulators are underestimating the health threat posed by a railroad freight center proposed for southwest Johnson County, environmentalists charge, according to The Kansas City Star. They say that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn’t fully assess the cancer risk tied to the BNSF project and that the corps’ predictions of diesel emissions are much less than what’s generated at rail projects elsewhere.


In a preliminary report last month, the Corps found that a person had a better chance of getting cancer in a typical lifetime than from pollution from the 418-acre freight center near Gardner. It said the project would have some moderate to significant adverse effects on air quality, traffic and streams, but said BNSF had plans to reduce the effects. The report stunned some national environmentalists who will be in Olathe tonight to discuss the health ramifications of one of the area’s biggest development projects, where BNSF plans to transfer freight from trains to trucks.


“If they are accurately characterizing the type and number of vehicles that are going to be using that facility, I don’t see how they wouldn’t be able find a significant cancer risk,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica, Calif.


The corps acknowledged Wednesday that it didn’t quantify all cancer risks because there’s insufficient data to do so.


The meeting in Olathe comes just days before the Aug. 9 deadline for public comment on the environmental report. The corps said it will consider all comments seriously before deciding whether to grant environmental clearances for the project to move ahead.


Environmentalists are zeroing in on whether federal regulators evaluated the chance of getting cancer from diesel emissions from locomotives and trucks.


“The reason the cancer risk estimates are so low is that they won’t determine the cancer risk from the diesel emissions,” Lin Perrella said.


Though the Environmental Protection Agency has classified diesel emissions as a likely cause of cancer, it hasn’t specified a threshold of exposure where the cancer risk rises. Regulators say they measured potential diesel emissions at the Gardner site, but didn’t specifically examine the related cancer risks.


“We have determined risks for most of the air toxics associated with the intermodal facility, with the exception of diesel exhaust, which isn’t applicable because the EPA has found insufficient data to establish a protective threshold,” the corps said in a statement.


But Lin Perrella said data are available for the corps to do its own evaluation of diesel emissions. She points to California studies showing that residents living near rail yards face an increased cancer risk. But officials at the California Air Resources Board caution that their research might not apply to facilities that use modern, environmentally friendly equipment.