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Metrolink Agrees to Health Risk Assessment for Elysian Valley Residents

Last week Elysian Valley residents achieved a milestone in their L.A. river-adjacent neighborhood. With the support of Congressman Adam Schiff, Councilman-elect Gil Cedillo, and a number of officials, the neighborhood received a commitment from Metrolink that it would conduct a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) of the Central Maintenance Facility located at 1555 N. San Fernando Road, on the east bank of the Los Angeles River.

"It was something our board determined to be in the best interest of everyone to conduct," explained Scott Johnson of Metrolink Public Affairs. "Our agency is a joint-powers authority made up of 11 voting members. Each member is an elected official in their own right and they feel it's imperative that we know what we're emitting in our facility." Johnson confirmed that Metrolink will shoulder the cost of the study, which estimates have put between $30,000 to $100,000.

"A health risk assessment is not a costly thing to do," said Representative Adam Schiff, "It will give us real data about what needs to be done and give residents peace of mind."

According to Grove Pashley of Northeast Los Angeles Residents for Clean Air Coalition, there was incredible support for the move by local officials such as Cedillo, whose office arranged three major community meetings as well as countless office meetings, but it was Schiff's participation which elevated the issue to a federal level and perhaps prompted the Metrolink to move forward with the study. Given the neighborhood's persistent efforts, Pashley hopes Metrolink understands the community's commitment to the cause. "I'm hoping they realize we aren't going away," said Pashley.

Over the past two years there has been growing concern that Elysian Valley residents are continually exposed to unknown quantities of diesel particulate matter -- a known carcinogen -- because of its location by the Metrolink's Central Maintenance Facility. As previously reported, adverse effects of diesel exposure include increased risk of heart attacks, aggravated asthma, bronchitis, and even premature death. Children and elderly are especially at risk. Without an accomplished HRA, however, those fears continue to loom. It is only now that those worries would be quantified and monitored.

An HRA is increasingly relevant given the continual development along the Los Angeles River. Already, the maintenance facility lies close to many venues frequented by those who live close by. These include Rio de los Angeles State Park that has sports facilities, which frequently host games for local kids. The facility is within half-a-mile of three elementary schools: Aragon Avenue Elementary, Dorris Place Elementary, and Glassell Park Elementary.

On April 5, the City Council also approved a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant that would fund the building of the Taylor Yard Transit Village, affordable family and senior rental housing that sits on a 20.2-acre site less than 4,000 feet from the facility.

Metrolink is implementing a number of measures to reduce emissions over the years, but is unable to confirm any improvements due to a lack of baseline environmental information. "We're implementing a great deal," said Johnson. "It made sense that if we're doing all this work, we need to be able to showcase the results." To rectify this, Metrolink has brought on a separate consultant to conduct a baseline emissions assessment in consultation with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The agency is looking to share the results in a meeting later in the month.

The agency has set aside $129.4 million to purchase 20 low-emission locomotives, which will be available in 2015. They've installed nine power stations which trains could plug-into when servicing instead of keeping their engines on. Thirty three of 52 Metrolink locomotives have installed a start-stop mechanism that reduces the time engines idle, which is a cause of emissions.

As of this writing, many details are yet to be finalized. The most important question of all is: which firm is going to conduct the assessment? "We need to make sure that whoever conducts this study is going to be a neutral party and [that] we're comfortable with how the study is performed," said Pashley.

Schiff echoes this concern. "Metrolink really needs to work with community to identify consultant to do the assessment. It's not worth doing the study if the results aren't going to be believed."

Another lingering issue is the scope of the study. Would it just cover the facility or perhaps go beyond that? A working group meeting has been scheduled for June 27 to firm up these details.

Follow the issue at: lametrolinkpollution.com.

Metrolink Central Maintenance Facility | Photo: Eric Brightwell

Top: Metrolink train seen from Elysian Valley. Photo: Carren Jao.

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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