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  AUGUST 06, 2010
Loma Linda Takes on Environmental Justice for Residents Near Polluted Rail Yard

A team of researchers from Loma Linda University School of Public Health has just been awarded a two-year grant worth close to $1 million to generate data on the health status of the several thousand people living closest to the one rail yard out of California’s 18 deemed to present the most public health risk by the California Air Resources Board.

While epidemiologic studies indicate a range of health risks associated with inhaling fine particulate matter or living near heavy traffic, no actual health outcomes data exists on the adverse health effects experienced by people living near facilities such as the BNSF San Bernardino Railyard—a major passageway to the rest of the country for goods imported through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“Achieving a cleaner environment for the residents around the railyard will require interventions based on scientific data specific to the populations at risk,” propose principal investigators Dr. Sam Soret and Dr. Susanne Montgomery. “This research could provide the necessary impetus to mobilize the railroad companies to improve the air quality in and around their facilities.” 

The researchers will collect primary data through longitudinal household- and school-based surveys on the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, respiratory symptoms, and biologic outcomes, including lung function and airway inflammation. They will also analyze secondary data from the California Cancer Registry to determine whether there is an excess of new and fatal cancers observed from 1999–2008 that could be attributed to diesel smoke and other airborne emissions. 

The researchers have chosen to use community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods for this investigation and will therefore work in close partnership with the area’s residents, who also live with high rates of poverty and violent crime. The goal is to develop an informed community response plan to reduce railyard exposures and related health outcomes. They will collaborate with the nonprofit Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice to ensure the involvement of people living near the railyard.

Other members of the research team are co-investigators Dr. Synnove Knutsen, Dr. Larry Beeson, Dr. John Morgan, Dr. Rhonda Spencer-Hwang, and Mr. David Shavlik.