“We recommend doing everything possible to avoid locating sensitive receptors within the highest risk zones at ports and rail yards… Avoid siting new sensitive land uses within 1,000 feet of a major service and maintenance rail yard. Within one mile of a rail yard, consider possible siting limitations and mitigation approaches”.
“... the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
- Describe the number of California residents who live in the zones of highest diesel cancer risk near existing rail yards in the state and determine if there are racial/ethnic and income disparities among them;
- Determine through a review of the news media and trade journals whether new or expanding rail yards are taking into consideration the proximity of schools and homes to the newly proposed sites, as well as the potential for disproportionate impacts; and
- Offer insights into what makes an intermodal rail yard unique in terms of industrial facilities and what types of considerations are needed to help ensure that rail yard siting or expansion takes community, public health and environmental justice concerns into account.
2. Background Information from the California Air Resources Board Health Risk Assessments
2.1. Diesel Emissions at 18 California Rail Yards
2.2. CARB’s Development of Isopleths (Contour Lines or Zones) for Diesel Cancer Risk around the Rail Yards
|Rail Yard||Locomotives||Cargo Handling Equipment||On-|
(Off-Road Equipment, Transport Refrigeration Units, Stationary Sources, etc.)
|Commerce: 4 yardscombined||13.6||9.4||13.2||5.5||41.8|
|BNSF Barstow a||27.1||0.03||0.04||0.75||27.9|
|BNSF Hobart b||5.9||4.2||10.1||3.7||23.9|
|BNSF San Bernardino||10.6||3.7||4.4||3.4||22.0|
|UP Commerce b||4.9||4.8||2.0||0.4||12.1|
|UP City of Industry||5.9||2.8||2.0||0.3||10.9|
|UP Mira Loma||4.4||N/A||0.2||0.2||4.9|
|BNSF Commerce Eastern b||0.6||0.4||1.1||1.0||3.1|
|BNSF Sheila b||2.2||N/A||N/A||0.4||2.7|
|BNSF San Diego||1.6||N/A||0.007||0.04||1.7|
2.3. Exposed Populations (and Their Estimated Cancer Risks) near the Four Highest Priority Rail Yards in California
2.4. Proximity of Homes and Schools to the Top Four Highest Priority Rail Yards in California
- UP Commerce Rail Yard: Within two miles of this yard, there are 27 sensitive receptors, including 19 schools, four child care centers and four hospitals. Four of these sensitive receptors are within the 100 in a million cancer risk range. Homes are adjacent to the rail yard fence, and an elementary school is located less than two blocks away .
- BNSF Hobart Yard, Commerce: CARB looked at sensitive receptors within a two-mile distance of the yard and found 28, including eight schools, 12 child care centers and eight hospitals. Within the 100 in a million cancer risk range, there were 19 sensitive receptors identified .
- UP ICTF, Wilmington: The UP ICTF is just 400 feet away from a middle school and homes that are located in west Long Beach, CA. There are seven sensitive receptors in the 100 in a million cancer risk range and 20 sensitive receptors all located within one mile of the rail yard .
- BNSF San Bernardino: Homes are located directly across the street from this yard. Within a one-mile distance of the yard, there are 41 sensitive receptors, including seven hospitals/medical centers, 19 childcare centers and 15 schools. When considering a 100 in a million cancer risk range, there are 19 sensitive receptors .
|Rail Yard||Estimated Population Exposed to Cancer Risk of Greater than 100 Chances in a Million||Estimated Population Exposed to Cancer Risk of Greater than 500 Chances in a Million|
|4 yards in Commerce combined||82,000||5,200|
|BNSF, San Bernardino||39,580||3,780|
|UP ICTF, Wilmington||33,540||1,200|
|BNSF Hobart, Commerce||48,200||100|
3. Study Methods
4. Study Site
5.1. Which Came First, Siting of the Rail Yards or the Lower-Income Minority Populations Living in the Area? A Brief Case Study
5.2. Construction of New Intermodal Facilities in the U.S. and Health/Environmental Concerns Raised by Residents
- A proposed BNSF intermodal facility in Wilmington, CA (part of the City of Los Angeles) that would be located within 1,000 feet of schools, a daycare center and a housing complex and that would bring in thousands of trucks a day to the yard, which is four miles from the local ports; emissions and truck traffic would again impact the lower-income minority community of west Long Beach. The project, called the Southern California International Gateway (BNSF SCIG) was proposed in 2005 and had several iterations of an environmental impact report (EIR) between then and its final EIR in 2013 . The location of this proposed rail yard is immediately south of the UP ICTF. Community residents and others raised public health and environmental justice concerns about building another rail yard in the same vicinity as the ICTF and in close proximity to homes and schools [51,52], urging that the rail yard be sited on-dock at the industrial ports rather than adjacent to a residential community. The Long Beach Unified School District  and others, including public health experts, also raised concerns about both of the proposed rail yards and their proximity to schools. Although BNSF Railway argues that the new rail yard would reduce regional pollution , an environmental report issued by the Port of Los Angeles on the project, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) stated that the impacts of localized air pollution from the rail yard:“... would fall disproportionately on minority and low-income populations because the census block groups adjacent to the point of impact (the eastern edge of the Project site) constitute minority populations, and ... all or parts of [the adjacent] census tracts ... constitute low-income populations.”
- A Norfolk Southern (NS) rail yard newly constructed in Alabama that is immediately adjacent to an elementary school ;
- A NS rail yard that is expanding by buying homes near its yard in a Chicago community called Englewood, home to mostly African-Americans ;
- A CSX rail yard proposed in Baltimore, Maryland, that is estimated to bring 30–40 future trucks a day through a residential community ; and
6. Discussion and Conclusions
- Research. Conduct more epidemiologic research on the health and community impacts of rail yard facilities on nearby communities, additional exposure assessment studies, and evaluation of zero emission technologies for locomotives, trucks and rail yard equipment.
- Best practices. Encourage the U.S. EPA to develop a best practices database for how to reduce air pollution at rail yards, including the availability of alternative technologies such as electric trucks and electric cranes, as recommended in the NEJAC Working Group report .
- Siting and land use.
- Whenever feasible, site rail yards servicing marine ports “on-dock” (that is, right at the marine terminals) in order to make the yards as efficient as possible and minimize the use of diesel-fueled drayage trucks.
- Require minimum distances between rail yards and schools/homes and other sensitive receptors when choosing sites for new or expanded rail yards, taking into account CARB and other land use guidelines .
- Environmental justice considerations.
- Require that newly proposed rail yard facilities comply with Environmental Justice (EJ) Executive Orders and the EJ requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and any state EJ directives, as relevant .
- Discontinue to site rail yards in lower income, minority communities in favor of more suitable locations, including on-dock rail and purely industrial locations, in order to protect public health and uphold environmental justice principles.
- Environmental reviews.
- Require full Environmental Impact Statements under federal law or full reviews under state law, rather than simple Environmental Assessments when evaluating the impacts of major intermodal rail facilities.
- Consider conducting Health Impact Assessments of any new rail yard facilities that are within one mile of homes and schools.
- Require that all environmental reviews include a comparative demographic analysis (including race/ethnicity/income/educational attainment levels) of the neighborhoods within one mile of a proposed rail yard and the city/county as a whole and that the results of this analysis be included in the environmental statement or report.
- Require that any environmental reviews of rail yard proposals include accurate forecasts for future truck and locomotive volumes; accurate assessments of projected emissions from trucks, locomotives and yard equipment; accurate assumptions in modeling of the near-roadway air pollution exposures; and an evaluation of alternative technologies; and that new projects adhere to what was promised in the environmental review reports.
- Regulatory agencies.
- Require that regulatory agencies with responsibility for air pollution from rail yard facilities (including locomotives and other equipment) have mandatory mechanisms in place to reduce public health risks when analyses or HRAs show elevated cancer or other health risks from exposure to diesel exhaust or other pollutants.
- Update EPA’s assessment of diesel exhaust exposure’s health effects to reflect IARC’s designation of diesel exhaust as a “human carcinogen”.
BNSF Railway Company, formerly Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway
California Air Resources Board
diesel particulate matter
Health Risk Assessment
International Agency for Research on Cancer
intermodal container transfer facility
Union Pacific Railroad
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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