Story and photos by Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
It’s been a busy week of environmentally-related meetings for West Seattle and its neighbors. The night after Sustainable West Seattle‘s forum on the Duwamish River (WSB coverage here), a “Community Forum on the Public Health Issues of Neighborhood Trucking” was convened, primarily for the Georgetown and South Park communities, but potentially of interest to other local areas with notable truck traffic.
Held at the Georgetown campus of West Seattle-headquartered South Seattle Community College, the forum consisted of three separate panels offering information regarding diesel pollution in the Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods. Listening to the panels were Seattle City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata as well as Port Commissioner Rob Holland, as well as an audience of approximately 40 people.
The goal of the meeting was to inform the council about the effects of pollution on residents in industrial zones. Georgetown and South Park are industrially zoned areas where residents live cheek-by-jowl with railroad tracks, major trucking routes, and Boeing Field. Noise and diesel pollution can each significantly affect the health of those who live within these industrial zones.
Holly Krejci, chair of the Georgetown Community Council board, noted that a recent one-day survey counted 85 big-rig hauling trucks parked in front of 30 houses. “These trucks fire up every morning at 5:00. We’ve asked the truckers nicely to park somewhere else so that their exhaust doesn’t come into our open windows during the summer, but because the neighborhood is so close to where they need to be in the morning, they don’t move.”
Because the neighborhood is zoned for industrial use, there is no regulation keeping trucks from parking in front of homes, or, as Christina Gallegos of the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice noted, keeping them off sidewalks, which forces residents to walk in the street, or not walk at all.
Further, the community is home to many businesses that use heavy trucks, as well as the First Student school-bus base – which Holly Krejci noted has approximately 500 buses making four trips per day through the neighborhoods – and the South Park Transfer Station, which brings hundreds of garbage trucks through the community each week.
Morgan Barry, of Seattle & King County Environmental Health Division, noted that Georgetown and South Park residents have higher rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses than King County as a whole. This, explained Amy Fowler of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, is due to the heavy “particulates” caused by diesel exhaust that are easily absorbed into the lungs and the body. Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time around diesel exhaust such as the neighborhood residents, people spending time in traffic and even truckers themselves, are at an increased risk of developing medical conditions caused by this pollution.
Holly Krejci added: “Quality of life and affordability cannot be mutually exclusive.”
What’s to be done? The final panel, coined the “Solutions Panel,” featured port commissioner Rob Holland (a West Seattleite), the Port’s environmental programs director, Puget Sound Sage, and two people from California who have been involved with environmental issues at the Port of Los Angeles.
Because much of the freight moving through Puget Sound originates at the Port of Seattle, they felt it was important to be part of the discussion. They noted steps they’ve taken to address environmental issues such as providing a parking lot for trucks at Terminal 25, requiring newer engines in trucks, electrifying cranes and providing “plug-in” stations for ships; however, the remaining panelists insisted it wasn’t enough. Los Angeles charges fees to businesses using their Port that pay for environmental mitigation efforts; the Port of Seattle’s concern is that by passing mitigation costs to their users, the users will simply move to a different port, threatening local jobs.
While no specific solutions were presented (though South Park resident Betsy McFeely suggested changing trucking routes and reducing speeds), some “next steps” were suggested to continue to explore the issue.
Genevieve Aguilar of Puget Sound Sage said that the community needs an “Exposure Impact Study” — a key piece of research that was discussed during the evening—to look at specific health impacts on community residents. Further, she added, “We still need to look at issues of drivers and long-term sustainability. We need the trucking industry to take responsibility.”
Councilmember Rasmussen said the council “can and should be working with the Port to encourage and hasten (environmental mitigation) efforts,” and Councilmember O’Brien added that in the next few months they would work on a combined strategy with the Port.