Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Sierra Club and AAB


Well, friends, did our title manage to get your attention?  We hope so.

We don’t have too many mountain ranges reminiscent of the Sierras here in Maine, and while not unheard of in these parts, it seems fair to say that the Sierra Club isn’t a major league player in what goes on in our state.  But as you’ll see shortly, they’ve done some work that bears directly on what goes on around here, and more specifically, in Brunswick.


As to the “AAB,” we expect you immediately guessed we’re going to riff a bit more on “All Aboard Brunswick,” the new ‘brigade in the Kool-Aid Parade’ we discussed in this post:

In that item, we referred to the apparent Drum Majorette for that new group and her well, less than convincing evidence put forth to document the major economic benefits of the Downeaster.

But as you’ll see, we talking about another sense of the term “AAB.”

Back to the Sierra Club.  As loyal readers (and others too) know, the consequences of Downeaster train sets idling away in town for an average of 5 hours each and every day has been an ongoing controversy in our otherwise perfect little town, where ‘quality of place’ is held in the highest regard.

One side of the discussion holds that the diesel engines are spewing extremely unpleasant and unhealthy byproducts of their operation, including noxious odors, diesel fuel particulates, etc.  We can vouch for this side of things, since just last night, we had occasion to meet with some folks in an office nearby to an idling train set, and in no more than an hour, our nasal and oral passages were nicely coated with the emanations, even though we were inside a building with all windows closed.  The ‘thrill’ still wasn’t gone by the time we headed for slumberland.

The other side of the discussion holds that any complaints about such consequences are 1) veiled attempts by trainists (a derivative of racists) to demonize passenger rail service to Brunswick;  2)  the just desserts of anyone dumb enough to buy or lease property adjacent to railroad tracks; and 3) wildly exaggerated and unsubstantiated.


Enter the Hudson Mohawk Group of the Sierra Club.  We are in possession of a formal letter from them that opens as shown above.  We’ve posted the entire letter here:

We’re going to post a few passages here to see that you have sufficient cause to read the entire document, and even tell friends and neighbors about it.

“For almost a year and a half now, the Hudson Mohawk Group has worked alongside the Concerned Citizens of Rensselaer to begin to determine the human health impacts related to air emissions in and around the City of Rensselaer. As will be detailed below, we have become aware of what some of those impacts are and are attempting to determine how to best address them. Because of our current air monitoring work with scientific analysis professionals we have collected data which indicates that at least certain portions of the airshed in the City is unhealthy and actually hazardous to human health. “

It is well known that there is an inordinately high number of industrial facilities that impact air quality in the City of Rensselaer. First and probably foremost is the Amtrak Station in Rensselaer. For many years, the residents who live in close proximity to the Amtrak Station have had to deal with the noxious and unhealthy fumes. The fumes emanate from the train maintenance facility as well as the passenger trains which idle. We now have solid, scientific evidence of how harmful breathing those fumes can be.

With a portion of this funding, the Sierra Club, in consultation with the Concerned Citizens of Rensselaer (identified as the “Local Committee” as per the above reference), undertook air quality monitoring to determine locations where air quality was of special concern. One of the first locations chosen was behind a residence located at 1100 Broadway in Rensselaer whose backyard was approximately 100 yards from the Amtrak Station. Locomotives waiting for crew changes, new passengers and other activities idle for long periods in which diesel fuel is burned.

The health impacts of human exposure to these levels of EC is alarming. According to Dr. Cherniak (see references above and below), on March 11-12 from 1100 Broadway in Rensselaer, persons spending time outdoors at this location would be subject to an elevated risk of cardiovascular mortality two and three-days post exposure: and an elevated risk of cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure. To put it more directly, the above results from March 11-12 are just one day’s worth of exposure, in an unusually warm day in March when the wind was blowing from the south. The impacts of an entire summer’s worth of exposure, when windows are open and the breeze is from the south, can only be categorized as alarming, in our opinion. We have no doubt that the weather records would indicate that these conditions have frequently occurred in the past, putting the residents of Rensselaer at risk, to say the least.

We also believe that the Sierra Club Hudson Mohawk Group and Concerned Citizens of Rensselaer should make an effort in concert with EPA/DEC efforts to combat unhealthy emissions. One of the options we have become aware of to deal with the diesel emissions from the maintenance facility and passenger trains at the Amtrak Train station in Rensselaer is to reduce the locomotive idling. This would be accomplished by utilizing Auxillary Power Units (APUs). As you may know, APU’s have been identified on the EPA Smartway site as a “verified” RR Idle reduction technology. One of our potential options is to utilize some of our grant money to engage the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in this endeavor. However, it is believed by residents of Rensselaer who have complained in the past to Amtrak about the odors and received little response or help, that outside assistance, such as that provided by the EPA would help convince Amtrak to participate in this endeavor. Our other colleagues (copied below) will be counted on for assistance also.

It seems to us that it’s impossible to read this letter without seeing its relevance to Brunswick, and in particular, the daily idling that has been going on ever since the Downeaster came north from Portland.  Such has taken place both in the Cedar Street area and the Bouchard Drive area, though of late, it seems all idling periods are now taking place in the latter.  We’re not sure why, but we can’t help but think that NNEPRA has made a calculated decision about doing so.

Furthermore, considerable idling takes place at the Portland terminal, and similar concerns would apply there.

Discussions between town leaders, Amtrak, and NNEPRA to consider employing readily available technology that would largely alleviate the idling issue have yielded no noticeable progress or action on the part of NNEPRA, who operates the service.

We can’t understand why, given the dangers involved to Brunswick residents.


Perhaps it’s time for a new ‘AAB,’ under the name All About Brunswick, to put people before the train.  And a new leadership team to take the baton; one interested in residents well-being and very real threats to public health, rather than so far intangible and unsubstantiated ‘economic benefits’ to downtown merchants.

Let’s be Frank; Shirley “Quality of Place” encompasses Quality of Air, don’t you think?

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