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LAUSD Study Revisits Metrolink Air Quality Results in Northeast L.A.

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Metrolink maintenance yard in Elysian Valley | Photo: Eric Richardson/Flickr/Creative Commons

On a chilly night, residents living by the Central Maintenance Facility (CMF) in Northeast Los Angeles streamed into the Cypress Park Recreation Center, curious to hear how the historically noisy and intrusive Metrolink facility is really affecting their health and their children's.

Concerns about air quality have plagued Elysian Valley, Cypress Park and Glassell Park residents for years. In the face of their consistent efforts, Metrolink agreed to conduct a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) on its CMF, located in Cypress Park right by Rio de los Angeles State Park, within one mile of schools and parks such as the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Academies, Aragon Avenue Elementary School, and Elyria Canyon Park.

The results, which were released last year, were mostly optimistic. It found that it the long-term, harmful diesel emissions will eventually fall and cancer risks will follow suit. But that good news hasn't been enough.

Residents argue the study only looked at the long-term, what about the here and now? Metrolink's HRA study, no matter how positive, ignores the many comment letters that requested the study also address short-term exposures to pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulates (PM10). It further ignored similar comments by the Board of Supervisors County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Council Member Gilbert Cedillo.

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"Why has Metrolink decided to exclude these assessments from the HRA?" Asked Ceci Dominguez, a resident of the neighborhood for 40 years and whose husband passed away because of bronchial issues. Dominguez wonders whether Metrolink is presenting the community with the full picture of the situation.

Due to the CMF's proximity to many schools, the LAUSD has decided to throw its hat into the ring by assigning Bill Piazza, the Environmental Assessment Coordinator from LAUSD's Office of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS), to take a second look at the HRA.

Using the 2014 emissions data culled from the HRA study, and adding a revised interstate 5 freeway analysis from an updated version of the California Air Resources Board's Mobile Source Emission Factor Model, Piazza found that Metrolink's reported emissions in 2014 was within tolerable bandwidths set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). "These emissions have no real impact on residents living west of the CMF," said Piazza. He did find that the facility did produce a cumulative impact that produced cancer risks estimates above the 10 in one million thresholds for some residents, when he added the effect of the 5 freeway into the equation.

Piazza says he only used the 2014 figures because the 2010 and 2012 represent past operations, which have since changed in the facility. The 2017 figures Metrolink also presented in their HRA are based on further changes in operations and equipment that may or may not occur in 2017.

Piazza found that the 1.85 micrograms per cubic meter maximum predicted 24-hour concentration are below the threshold established by SCAQMD of 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter. "But these are data from 2014. Not 2012, not 2010," he said.

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Despite commending Metrolink's work on the HRA, Piazza also notes that the agency could still do more to quantify its findings. Castle Environmental Consulting, LLC, Metrolink's consultant, used an assessment method used by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railway Companies specifically for railyards and intermodal facilities, which are sometimes as large as 950 acres in the case of he Roseville Rail Yard in Northern California. The method Castle Environmental used is called California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Instead of usual inputs for CARB-based studies, Piazza contends that there are more known factors with a site like CMF rather than railyards and intermodal facilities. "We know exactly where things happen," said Piazza, while his presentation highlighted specific spots where emissions would most likely occur. Unlike Metrolink protestations, the agency's clear grasp of operations within the facility (such as HEP engine load testing and locomotive brake testing) should allow them to assess the effect of short-term exposures with more reliability.

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Piazza's presentation further reinforced calls for Metrolink to assess health effects associated with NO2 and Carbon Monoxide, so that data will actually be available to make educated decisions. "We do not know what the impacts to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) are at this point," says Piazza. "The Taylor Yard has been a source of locomotive emissions for many years. As for Metrolink, they have shown a reduction in both particulate and NOx emissions since 2010. However, without crunching the numbers, I cannot say what the extent of the impacts to our schools and community were."

He emphasized NO2 especially. "A study by USC researchers released by the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that children's lung function and growth is especially affected by this pollutant. Worryingly, Piazza's presentation showed that the area with maximum concentration of these emissions is right where the Cypress Park Recreation Center is located, a venue that regularly plays host to children playing in the community.

Metrolink's HRA assessment represented a good start, but there are questions to be answered. The community is hoping that Metrolink will continue to work with them on these lingering queries.

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