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Officials visit sites considered to be examples of neighborhood pollution

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  • Officials visit sites considered to be examples of neighborhood pollution

    Officials visit sites considered to be examples of neighborhood pollution

    01:53 PM PDT on Thursday, August 27, 2009

    The Press-Enterprise

    Estela Hernandez stood in the blistering sun Wednesday afternoon and spoke into a megaphone about noise and pollution she attributes to a mine and rock-crushing operation near her home. Her audience, a group of federal, state and local officials, listened intently and scribbled notes.

    The bustling Robertson Ready Mix plant visible behind her has brought dust clouds, early morning sirens that awaken residents and vibrations that have shaken tiles from her bathroom walls, Hernandez said.

    Maziar Movassaghi, acting director of the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control, remarked that the operation had no fence around it, despite its large pits, sand piles, trucks and an assortment of heavy industrial equipment in Lytle Creek Wash.
    Story continues below
    Kurt Miller / The Press-Enterprise
    Local, state and federal officials listen to Estela Hernandez, in center with bullhorn, as she speaks of her concerns with Robertson Ready Mix Plant and the pollution coming from the plant to the residents.

    "You just don't see this in Irvine," he said.

    Movassaghi, along with officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board and the Riverside County district attorney's office, toured Inland locations that local activists consider the area's worst examples of neighborhood pollution.

    The tour is part of the state's "environmental justice" initiative, an effort to better protect neighborhoods most adversely affected by local pollution sources.

    The day-long bus tour brought officials face-to-face with Inland residents, most of them lower-income and Hispanic, who say their neighborhoods suffer the brunt of industrial pollution.

    Christine Goeyvaerts, property manager for the Robertson facility, said she had not been contacted about the problems Hernandez described.

    "I'm disappointed," she said. "If someone in the neighborhood is concerned about dust or noise, we get right on it."

    She added that the property is not fenced because some neighboring property owners wouldn't grant easements needed for a fence.

    The bus also stopped in a Mira Loma neighborhood beset by diesel truck traffic, a new-car distribution yard next to Jurupa Valley High School, the sprawling Union Pacific rail yard, an automobile shredding plant in Colton and the BNSF Railway yard in San Bernardino, already identified as posing the highest neighborhood cancer risk from diesel exhaust of all rail yards in California.

    Today, in the second half of the event, the officials will draft a list of enforcement priorities, said Gale Filter, the Department of Toxic Substance Control's deputy director of enforcement and emergency response. The agency will investigate the concerns and report back within 100 days, hesaid. The tour is one of several around the state.

    "We are holding ourselves accountable to report back about what's being done about the problems," Filter said.
    Story continues below
    Lorena Garcia, left, tries to regain her composure as she speaks of her family's health concerns and pollution from nearby trains.

    Filter described the Inland tour as a collaboration between the state agency and the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, a Glen Avon-based environmental group.

    Outside the San Bernardino BNSF yard, Lorena Garcia, who lives three blocks away, struggled to hold back tears as she described her mother's breathing problems. Doctors said her mother's lungs are in the same condition as a longtime smoker's, even though her mother has never smoked.

    Garcia and other residents said many of their neighbors have died of cancer and that children frequently suffer from nosebleeds.

    "There are a lot of families here. There are a lot of children," added Suzanna Negrete, who also lives near the rail yard. "We hope you who are here today will help us find a solution."

    H. Cuauhtémoc Pelayo, an air pollution specialist for the California Air Resources Board, said that the hundreds of trucks that go in and out of the rail yard are prohibited from idling more than five minutes.

    "If I got out here for three or four days, I could be issuing citations, but there aren't enough of us," Pelayo said.

    The state air agency has only about 20 people statewide to issue such citations, he said.

    Lena Kent, a BNSF spokeswoman, said the railroad doesn't control the trucks. The railroad has spent $7 million to improve an intake station to process trucks more quickly.

    The company also has reduced locomotive idling times and is working to make its California locomotive fleet the cleanest in the nation. It also equipped the rail yard with new, lower-polluting trucks used to move cargo containers inside the yard, Kent said.

    The BNSF yard wasn't the only one getting attention Wednesday. Standing on the Riverside Avenue overpass above the Union Pacific yard in Colton, Filter noticed obvious problems.

    For example, creosote-soaked wooden railroad ties could be seen piled next to a creek bed. When it rains, the creek could be polluted, a potential violation of federal water regulations, Filter said.

    Union Pacific officials could not be reached late Wednesday afternoon.
    Steve Gordon
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