“The dirt is horrendous,” said Helen Carrol, a resident of Trainsong for twelve years. “I’ve never lived in such a dirty place. It’s all from the rail yards.”
The railroad has operated in the area for over 100 years and contaminated the groundwater under Trainsong with industrial solvents used in historic rail yard operations, according to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
“We wanted to plant a vegetable garden,” said Red Cross Youth Services Director Nathan Keffer. “But we had to scrap the idea because the soil is so contaminated.”
Carrol believes the effects of the pollution have more dire consequences.
“My brother lived right on the corner and got the worst of the toxins,” she said. “He died of kidney failure, which is one of the results of those toxins. He also had diabetes, so how do you sue when the victim had diabetes?”
Damage to the kidneys is one of the repercussions of exposure to high levels of VOCs, along with damage to the liver, nervous system and immune system. The compound can also increase the risk of certain forms of cancer.
In 2007, the DEQ, in conjunction with the Environmental Health Assessment Program (EHAP), required Union Pacific to install vapor barriers beneath nine Trainsong homes due to concerns about indoor air quality. They also conducted a year long study of those homes to determine the levels of hazardous chemicals.
While the study concluded that the homes in Trainsong were not at risk from chemicals emitted from infected groundwater, two of the nine homes had indoor VOC levels that were above health guidelines. The DEQ and EHAP contend that these levels were a result of factors within the houses not related to vapor intrusions from rail yard contaminants.
In light of these findings, the DEQ will continue to require the railroad to monitor these levels. For Carrol, that is not enough.
“The DEQ seems to be in cahoots with the railroads,” she said. “They cleaned it up, but they didn’t go far enough.”
Raj Maddux, who works at B&R Market, has a different issue with the railroad.
“The only thing I don’t like about living in this neighborhood is the trainyard,” he said, speaking from behind the counter of the store. “It wakes you up, sometimes as early as 6 in the morning.”
Maddux also voiced concerns about drug use in the neighborhood, particularly meth.
“I had a place behind my house where I stored wood, and bums would break in and live there,” he said. “When I cleaned it all up, I found about 7 or 8 needles.”
According to Eugene Police statistics, dangerous drugs, which include methamphetamine, had the highest arrest rates for sale and use in Trainsong from 2008-2009. Drug abuse was also the most commonly reported crime in the area.
“I bet if you went out there and spent twenty minutes, you could find a needle,” he said, gesturing towards the outside of the store.
While drugs are a concern, Maddux does not feel threatened in the community. “I think it’s a good neighborhood. I walk around at night and there’s no problem.”