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Barstow railyard emissions seen as increased risk of cancer

May 8, 2008 – 5:11PM
By ABBY SEWELL, staff writer

BARSTOW — Barstow’s railyard emits more diesel pollution than any other yard in the state, meaning that people who live near by are at a heightened risk for cancer, according to a study.

The BNSF Barstow Railyard emitted almost 28 tons of diesel pollutants into the air in 2005, according to a risk assessment completed by the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board. It was the highest level of emissions found in any of the 17 yards that the air board studied. Air board and BNSF representatives presented the results at a meeting at Barstow’s City Hall on Wednesday night.

People living closest to the railyard face a 25 times higher risk of cancer from air contamination than people living a mile and half away, the study stated. However, Barstow residents are not at the highest risk of the cities studied.

The air board found that people living near the BNSF San Bernardino railyard are at the highest risk of cancer relating to diesel pollution even though the yard emits less pollutants than Barstow’s yard. About 3,780 people in San Bernardino have increased risk of 500 chances in a million or more due to the railyard pollution. That level of risk does not exist in Barstow, said the air board’s engineering evaluation section manager Harold Holmes. San Bernardino also has a higher level of underlying air contamination than Barstow.

Holmes said that the high winds in Barstow, which generally blow from southwest to the northeast, carry most of the air contamination from the railyard away from the residential areas of Barstow.

BNSF representatives said the company is taking measures to decrease its railyard emissions, including installing equipment to reduce the amount of engine idling and making a switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.

Mike Stanfill of BNSF projected that with the current emissions-reduction plans, total emissions in the Barstow yard will be reduced by 28 percent in 2020, assuming a four percent growth rate in the yard’s operations.

BNSF spokeswoman Lena Kent said that freight trains create less emissions than semi trucks per ton-mile. In the Barstow area, the air board study showed traffic on Interstate 15 and other local roadways emitted about 26 tons of diesel pollutants in 2005. Barstow has one of the busiest railyards in the state, with 100 to 130 trains passing through each day, Holmes said. The locomotive traffic accounts for about 97 percent of the diesel pollution emitted from the yard, with the other 3 percent coming from off-road vehicles, trucks and other equipment.