Mountain Community residents known as the
TriCounty Watchdogs and their partner in a $25,000 Rose Foundation grant gave a
report to the El Tejon Unified School District Board of Governors last month.
The subject was their findings about air quality along the Interstate- 5
Watchdogs president Linda MacKay and Jessica
Hendricks of Global Community Monitor reported the results July 18 at a
“special meeting” called by Superintendent Katie Kleier with 24 hours advance
notice to the public. No mention of the air study report appeared on the board
The year-long air monitoring project focused
on multiple sites in Lebec along the route popularly referred to as the
Grapevine. The report, entitled “EXHAUST-ed!: Community Exposure to Diesel Air
Pollution in California’s Transportation Corridor,” says that Caltrans
estimates that 77,000 vehicles pass through the Grapevine daily. About 18,000
of those are heavy diesel-powered tractortrailers carrying freight.
Hendricks and MacKay told the ETUSD board
that high levels of diesel pollution are causing “serious health risk to
residents of the area, 240 school children and staff of the middle school.”
MacKay (who had a daughter at the school)
requested permission to measure air quality on the El Tejon School campus, but
was denied access. As an alternative, the project found a monitoring site on
the other side of the freeway (near Fort Tejon State Park). Sites near Lebec’s
Flying J (Pilot) truck stop, the Lebec post office, a mobile home park and a
private residence adjacent to the freeway were also used as sampling locations.
Fifty-one samples were taken over a year’s time.
The primary air sample data collected was for
diesel particulates 2.5 micron or larger and elemental carbon, or “black soot,”
A community committee hosted by the TriCounty
Watchdogs was given a two-day training course to be able to handle and change
filters and batteries in the Global Community Monitor “bucket brigade”
monitoring units that have been specially engineered for their use in similar
projects around the world and across the U.S.
TriCounty Watchdogs collected 51 air samples.
They maintained a careful “chain of custody” record for the filters, according
The elemental carbon filters were kept in a
freezer until setting them in the monitoring unit, then returned to a freezer
after the 24-hour monitoring period.
Used filters were sent weekly in
temperature-controlled ‘coldpaks’ to an independent, certified scientific laboratory
The raw data was then sent from the
laboratory to be reviewed by Mark Chernaik, Ph.D., who has a Bachelor of
Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from John Hopkins University. Chernaik also
received a law degree from the Oregon School of Law in 1993. His scientific
work has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
U.S.A, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He has worked on litigation
challenging pollution from pulp mills in the Pacific Northwest.
The report says that PM 2.5 levels did not
exceed legal standards. The elemental carbon “soot” readings were of concern.
According to Chernaik’s analysis: “The levels found in the samples represent a
risk of cardiovascular and respiratory effects, including increased incidence
of hospitalizations and premature death."
In the press-release issued with the written
report, San Francisco-based Global Community Monitor’s Jessica Hendricks said,
“Residents of the Lebec area and the Grapevine pass are disproportionately
impacted by diesel air pollution.”
She said that the small mountain community
area adjacent to the freeway was found to have pollution levels “comparable to
a large metropolitan area.”
MacKay is quoted in the release as saying,
“Children playing on the ball fields at El Tejon School have high rates of
asthma and sometimes even complain that their lungs hurt when they’re running
around. We wanted to know how much diesel pollution our children are being
“Now that we know how serious the risk is, we
need action to protect our communities from impacts of being wedged into one of
the nation’s largest transportation corridors.”
A U.S. Geologic Survey image of the school
grounds and the freeway makes it possible to estimate that the playing fields
are within 250 feet of the northbound lane of the Interstate-5. The current
classroom wings begin about 500 feet from the freeway.
This is an excerpt from the summary report:
TriCounty Watchdogs and Global Community
Monitor, based on the results from the community air monitoring project, have
listed a series of recommendations including:
1. Trees should be planted near the freeway
to reduce emission exposures.
According to the study, “Impacts of Noise
Barriers on Near Road Air Quality” published by Atmospheric Environment,
research has shown that planting trees between a major roadway and sensitive
sites like school grounds can potentially reduce vehicle emissions by up to 30
2. Replant trees near businesses close to the
freeway. At the location in Lebec near the Lebec Post Office, we recommend that
trees that were recently removed behind the post office and antique store be
replanted to reduce the emissions exposure of the residents who live near this
3. Electrify the Flying J Truck Stop.
Electrifying the truck stop will allow
drivers to plug in instead of idling their engines overnight, thus reducing a
source of emissions.
4. Ultra-fine particle analysis should be
performed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Further
ultra-fine particulate analysis is needed because standard PM 2.5 monitoring
does not properly identify [the presence of] ultra-fine particles [which recent
research shows is especially harmful to children].
Watch the video
of ETUSD Trustees Steve Kiouses and John Fleming crticizing the air quality
study presented by TriCounty Watchdogs and Global Community Monitor,
during the July 18, 2012 special meeting of the school board. See the Op-Ed by TriCounty Watchdogs' Linda MacKay
about the encounter, the summary of results and the background to the study about
air quality along the Interstate-5 corridor of Lebec.