Touro Students Say NO to VMT/Orcem

by | Nov 29, 2016 | 0 comments

Thank you to the students of Touro University and to the faculty and staff that support them. Their letter was published in the Times Herald on November 25, 2016. Fresh Air Vallejo believes it important enough to re-post it here in its entirety.

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

We, the undersigned student organizations at Touro University California, oppose the VMT/Orcem project proposal to repurpose the Vallejo waterfront into a shipping terminal and build an industrial cement mill at the historic Sperry Mill site. These projects carry heavy public health risks that would outweigh their economic benefit to the City of Vallejo.

Touro University trains hundreds of students to be clinicians and health professionals. Many students and faculty actively serve the health needs of Vallejo residents through the Student Run Free Clinic, Solano County Public Health Clinics, Vallejo City Unified School District School-Based Clinics and other faculty and student-initiated efforts. Therefore, we understand how important it is to call attention to any developments that would worsen the community’s health.

Cement dust and diesel emissions from the VMT/Orcem project would exacerbate the already serious health issues of Vallejo residents. Mortality rates from heart disease, cancer, and stroke in Vallejo zip codes 94589 and 94590 are higher than the average rates in the state of California — 21.5 percent of adults in Vallejo have been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 13.7 percent in California (CDPH Data, 2014).

In addition, significant evidence is emerging about the connection between environmental toxins, including combustion related air-pollutants (such as those released in diesel exhaust) and increasing rates of autism and ADHD. This problem has recently been featured in two of the most preeminent medical journals (The Journal of the American Medical Association (Abasi, 2016) and The Lancet (Grandjean and Landriga, 2014). This emerging research also addresses a recurring problem in chemical exposures in the United States — that new chemicals are released without sufficient research on their safety and found to be toxic years later. A search of the components of Orcem’s “green” process yields a fraction of the results of a similar search for standard cement. When searching toxnet, the United States’ toxicology data network, granulated blast furnace slag has 37 associated results total. Portland cement has 807 associated results total. Essentially, the safety of the product relies on very limited evidence, most of which is provided by manufacturers of “green” cement.

Operation of the shipping terminal and Orcem cement mill would involve five weekly train trips across Vallejo and 590 daily truck trips on Sonoma Boulevard, Curtola, and Lemon Street. The emission of nitric oxide, reactive organic gas (ROG), and particulate matter (PM) would disrupt lung development and function of children and adults living near these streets, especially those in the under-developed neighborhoods of south Vallejo. Noise pollution from the trains and trucks would negatively impact the cardiovascular health of children in nearby houses and schools.

The Draft Environmental Impact Report neglects to show that the VMT shipping terminal and Orcem cement mill construction would together emit 70 pounds of nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide (collectively known as NOx) gas per day, exceeding the 54 pound/day threshold set by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (DEIR, Table 3.2-7, p. 3.2-22). Following construction, the combined operations of both projects would emit 4.18 tons of reactive organic gas, 24.57 tons of carbon monoxide, 63.39 tons of NOx, 2.29 tons of sulfur oxide (also known as SOx), 1.07 tons of exhaust PM10, 11.4 tons of fugitive PM10, 1.03 tons of exhaust PM2.5, and 2.72 tons of fugitive PM2.5 (Table 3.2-13, p. 3.2-32). Of these, the NOx emissions exceed the BAAQMD threshold of 10 tons of NOx per year. Even with measures to mitigate emissions with newer model trucks, NOx emissions would only be reduced to 31.33 tons per year, three times the BAAQMD threshold (p. 3.2-43). Plus, although ROG and particulate matter emissions do not exceed annual thresholds (Table 3.2-13, p. 3.2-31), the San Francisco Bay Area Air Basin (SFBAAB) has not attained federal and state ambient air quality standards for those pollutants (Table 3.2-2, p. 3.2-7). Therefore, the project would hinder the progress of the 2010 Clean Air Plan put forth by the BAAQMD to reach attainment status (p. 3.2-6).

There would also be two open areas at the proposed cement mill where raw industrial material would be stockpiled. Dust from these piles would be carried northeast by wind and inhaled by children and adults throughout Vallejo. The lack of data regarding the chemical composition of these raw materials and the presence of carcinogens, such as crystalline silica, reveals much about Orcem’s disregard for its project’s lasting impact on public health.

It should be heavily noted that there are several schools and health care facilities within two miles of the project site, many of which go conveniently unmentioned in the DEIR. Grace Patterson Elementary School is within one-quarter mile from the factory site property line. With all their rhetoric about job creation and economic growth, VMT/Orcem seems blind to the fact that these benefits will mean very little in the face of prevalent chronic illness, increased health care costs, and the toll on quality of life for future generations of residents growing up in Vallejo. With this in mind, VMT/Orcem’s recent attempt to charm Vallejo residents with a one-million dollar investment in community programs is insultingly insincere.

The VMT/Orcem proposal would bring additional health burdens to Vallejo residents, and it is certainly not the only solution to the city’s economic struggles. The Sonoma Specific Plan, for example, would attract small businesses and facilitate foot traffic on Sonoma Boulevard by reducing traffic lanes, adding bike lanes, and expanding the sidewalks. The proposed waterfront expansion also promises to bring a wealth of new opportunities to Vallejo. These plans would create more jobs than the cement mill while promoting community health. It is doubtful the visitors the waterfront hopes to attract are interested in noisy rail traffic and the potential of toxic dust being blown into the area.

The recent, and yet unexplained, odor that engulfed Vallejo on Sept. 20-2 and sent many to the hospital further brings to light the hazards in this proposal. The site’s designation as a “marine terminal” would allow ships carrying oil and other potentially dangerous products to dock there, exposing the city to the health hazards of any spill. With this port designation, there are next to no restrictions on the use of this space, allowing many chemicals that Orcem is currently not discussing to arrive at the port.

We call on the Vallejo Planning Commission to reject the VMT/Orcem proposal.

We believe City Council members who served on the Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee (MISEDC) have demonstrated impermissible bias toward this project and call on them to recuse themselves from deliberation on the project in the possible event that the Planning Commission’s decision is appealed and brought to the city council.

Public Health Club at Touro University California
Pediatrics Club at Touro University California
American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians at Touro University California
California Health Professional Student Alliance at Touro University California