Diesel particulate matter can have many adverse health effects, especially for those living near rail yards. Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency’s Lisa Woodard says diesel particulate matter is made up of gasses and soot.
“The soot is highly toxic,” Woodard said. “And what happens is it’s so microscopic that when we inhale those particles, they travel deep, deep into the lungs, where they stay lodged.”
Studies show diesel particulate matter exposure can lead to lung and heart diseases, as well as cancer.
The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency recently conducted a study comparing data from the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Rail Yard (BNSF) to the Union Pacific Rail Yard in Stockton, Calif.
The study found that people living within 2 miles of a rail yard had a slightly higher risk for developing lung cancer. Over a 15-year period, there were 97 documented cases of lung cancer near the rail yard.
The Washington State Department of Health determined that lung cancer numbers in the area were not high enough to warrant further study.
“They said it was statistically significant, but because there are so many factors in lung cancer: exposures at work, exposures to other types of pollutants, transportation. It wasn’t conclusive,” Woodard said of the study.
Spokane Regional Health District’s Joel McCullough says the city also has a higher smoking rate than the rest of the state, one factor that could lead to increased lung cancer rates.
Spokane Clean Air Agency is working with BNSF to retrofit 10 locomotives to reduce emissions from idling engines.