COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Council decision could compromise children’s health

On Jan. 19, four Encinitas council members got caught in their own web of deceptions as they tried to pass off major changes to the Hall sports complex as being insignificant. The changes were necessary for accommodating the planned I-5 freeway expansion. They included new 12-foot-high retaining walls and required moving 5,000 additional truckloads of contaminated soil. Moreover, I-5 truck lanes are predicted to be 72 feet closer to the playing fields, exposing children to denser vehicle exhaust and higher asthma and cancer risks. Rather than amending their outdated environmental impact report, City Council retreated back to their 2007 plans.
Dangers from vehicle exhaust have been recognized for decades, and major universities have ongoing studies to evaluate the lethality of exposure to diesel fumes. Even 10 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that more Americans die from breathing diesel exhaust than from second-hand smoke. Diesel exhaust contains fine soot particles coated with most potent carcinogens. Every year new studies show that inhaling particulate matter, or PM, from exhaust is more dangerous than previously thought, and that contaminants travel farther on both sides of a freeway. California law no longer allows schools to be built within 500 feet of a major roadway.
Studies by USC Keck School of Medicine indicate that, in areas polluted by vehicle exhaust, our most athletic children are three times more likely to develop asthma than inactive children. “Damage is particularly severe for athletes participating in high-intensity sports.” This is consistent with findings that the lungs of a child playing soccer suck in polluted air at a 17 times normal rate.
Another UCI research shows that children “are affected up to nine times more harshly than adults” by vehicular pollution. These results show that children exercising near freeways have a 27 times higher chance of developing asthma than inactive adults exposed to the same pollution levels. A 2000 Denver study found that children living within 800 feet of highways with 20,000 vehicles per day are six times more likely to develop cancer and eight times more likely to get leukemia.
The Hall sports fields are entirely within 800 feet of the expanded I-5, and according to Encinitas Councilman Jerome Stocks, who is also chairman of SANDAG, the new 14-lane I-5 will carry “1 million trips per day in less than 20 years.” Soccer parents, do the math!
Considering that medical researchers are conservative, such odds are alarming. I would not let my grandchildren play soccer within a thousand feet of I-5.
Before 2007, PM was monitored by measuring carbon mass per cubic meter, mostly carried by 10-micron sized particles, about 1/6 of the width of a human hair. We now know, however, that “ultra fine particles,” or UFPs, which may be 500 times smaller, are much more dangerous. UFPs are present in huge numbers in vehicle exhaust. It would take 100 million ultra fine particles to make up one 10 micron particle, and their vastly greater surface area allows them to carry 500 times more carcinogens into the deep alveolar ducts of children’s lungs. They readily pass into the bloodstream, delivering carcinogens to brain, heart and liver.
In 2010, a new SDSU study measured UFP concentrations at 37 locations on both sides of I-5, just 3 miles south of the Hall site. These measurements contradict the erroneous assumptions on which the 2007 Hall EIR was based, namely that anyplace farther than 300 feet from I-5 is safe and that prevailing SW winds will put little pollution on the Hall site.
SW winds occur here generally only at midday. Mornings and evenings have prevailing calm periods and easterly winds. The 2010 study found similarly high UFP concentrations west and east of the I-5. Evening and nighttime concentrations were higher on the west side. SDSU researchers also found, along with other 2009 studies, that UFPs did not revert to background values until well over 1,000 feet from the freeway.
By ignoring new facts, the Encinitas City Council has negligently ruled against the public good and in favor of private sports clubs and their sponsors.

Dr. Dietmar Rothe is a Cardiff resident with a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Toronto.


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