Groups Challenge California Rail Yards To Clean Up Their Act

Diesel Pollution from Facilities Harms Millions of People Each Year

LOS ANGELES (June 21, 2011) –California’s two major rail yard operators are illegally disposing hazardous waste thereby increasing the risk of serious health problems such as chronic respiratory disease and cancer in neighboring communities, according to a 90-day notice letter sent today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. The letter contends that the rail yard operators are in violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act due to the high levels of particulate matter released by their diesel-based operations.

“People living near these rail yards are exposed to startling levels of pollution and carcinogens every day,” said David Pettit, NRDC senior attorney. “Poisoning people should not be a cost of doing business in California.” 

The letter of intent is directed to Union Pacific Corporation (UP), Burlington Northern Santa Fe, LLC, and BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), the only two major railroads that haul freight in California. Much of the containerized freight that travels from Asia to the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland is transferred onto diesel trucks that transport the containers to local and regional rail yards for transfer onto trains powered by diesel locomotives and then shipped throughout the United States. 

“Communities surrounding rail yards need relief now,” said Angelo Logan, executive director for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. We have been patiently working with both regulator and the rail companies for years, with no resolve. Health protective technologies and fixes exist. It is time for the rail companies to be good neighbors and right the wrongs they have imposed on California communities.”     

Millions of Californians inhale toxic diesel particulate pollution generated annually by rail yards. California’s Air Resources Board has struggled for years over how to regulate diesel pollution from railroads, and despite recent efforts by federal EPA, communities in close proximity to rail yards remain vulnerable to the serious health risks posed by these facilities. The health dangers of diesel particulate emissions are well-known. Increased incidence of cancer, asthma, and respiratory and cardiac conditions are attributed to inhaling diesel particulate matter. Communities residing even miles away

from busy rail yards can face increased risk of cancer. 

“Families at the fence line of the railyards and rail lines pay an exorbinent price in terms of their health and quality of life,” said Penny Newman, Executive Director for CCAEJ. “While the railroads have outlined extra steps they are willing to take at proposed new facilities near the ports, they drag their feet at implementing these same technologies at railyards where health damage has been documented. Before they are allowed to expand their operations, UP and BNSF must take steps now to stop the harm they are doing to these families.”

People living in communities close to the source of goods movement-related emissions, such as ports, rail yards and inter-modal transfer facilities are likely to suffer greater health impacts and these impacts will likely add to an existing health burden. Communities surrounding many goods movement-related facilities where there is an elevated exposure to air pollutants are often economically disadvantaged or ethnically or culturally diverse.

“To protect the health of our friends and families, we must ensure that rail yards like those owned by UP and BNSF are as clean as possible,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, NRDC senior attorney. “The railway has a menu of pollution-control solutions at its fingertips. We need to ensure BNSF and UP are working to protect the health of those who live near their facilities.”

Solutions to reduce diesel pollution include the use of locomotives, trucks, and equipment that meet the most stringent EPA emissions standards as well as the use of electric vehicles. Adopting idling control devices and prohibiting idling near residences will also reduce pollution exposure caused by locomotives. Fleet modernization programs can be adopted to progressively retire older, more polluting vehicles and locomotives, and put newer, cleaner models into service.