Air quality an issue in Trainsong

Residents of the Trainsong Neighborhood in West Eugene may experience improvements in air quality after a new partnership formed at a Neighborhood Association meeting.

Representatives from Beyond Toxics, an Oregon environmental health agency based in Eugene, spoke to the Trainsong Neighborhood Association Thursday about the quality of air in the area. The meeting was held at 6 p.m. at Bethel Community Church.

The Trainsong Neighborhood Association meets at Bethel Community Church once a month.

Beyond Toxics Outreach Coordinator Alison Guzman gave a presentation that outlined data that indicated high toxic emission levels from several industries in and around Trainsong. “Even according to NPR, there are some industries located in West Eugene that have a high risk screening,” Guzman said. One slide she showed suggested that not all industries in the area actually report their emissions.

According to a 2010 survey of 330 homes in West Eugene that Beyond Toxics conducted, over 60 percent of respondents claimed they could detect air pollution in their neighborhood. Another 60 percent reported having respiratory issues ranging from asthma to lung cancer, presumably related to their air conditions.

Vehicles, gas, field burning, and creosote stand out among the sources of pollution detected by Trainsong residents, though train related pollution was noted as the most prominent, the survey showed.

One member of the Neighborhood Association expressed frustration with the fact that she regularly has to cover her face when walking through the neighborhood in the morning to avoid waves of diesel fumes from idling locomotives. The rest of the members echoed this concern

Neighborhood Association President Tom Musselwhite interjected that wood odor was another prominent air issue in the neighborhood, an observation that Beyond Toxic’s data supported.

Members of the association asked about the process of the survey and how questions were worded. Guzman said that the questions were very open-ended, allowing participants to identify what they detected without specific prompting.

This is why, Guzman said, it is surprising that so many residents cited specific chemicals and industries that were already on Beyond Toxics’ radar. She took a moment to remind the association of the purpose of environmental justice work. “It really is about bringing the concerns of the people to major decision makers, and that is why I am here,” she said.

Beyond Toxics Executive Director Lisa Arkin also spoke to the Neighborhood Association, and presented information about the organization’s new EPA approved air monitor. When Musselwhite asked what she would be monitoring, Arkin displayed the collaborative nature of her organization: “We’re asking neighborhoods what they want to monitor,” she said.

According to Arkin, the diesel fume issue associated with idling trains is one that Beyond Toxic has already addressed with the city and one railroad company Union Pacific.

This advocacy was the purpose of Beyond Toxics’ visit. Without an official vote, the Neighborhood Association agreed to continue working with Beyond Toxics to bring their air pollution concerns to the eyes of the city. Guzman volunteered to continue coming to Trainsong meetings to keep the issue on the table for discussion.

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