At Tuesday night’s marathon City Council meeting — where the behemoth housing project First Street Village was up for discussion — Councilwoman Sharon Springer asked an excellent question about the cancer risk posed to residents of the 5 Freeway adjacent property. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a straight answer.
In fact, a “scientific” study of how highway pollution might affect future residents of the proposed multi-used development on the corner of First and Magnolia (which was paid for by the developer) was presented to the council in a manner which can only be described as disingenuous at best.
Ms. Springer asked the consultant presenting the study to provide some context so the public might better understand the study’s finding that set the cancer risk posed by exposure to freeway pollution at “60.85.”
Well, the consultant explained, if you said 40 percent of Americans will get cancer in their lifetime you’re talking about 400,000 out of a million people. This number is much smaller — only 60.85 people out of a million.
And while this is true — 60.85 out of a million is a smaller percentage than 400, 000 out of a million — it is equally true that 60.85 is almost double the cancer risk faced by Americans who don’t live next to freeways.
Here are some other points the applicant failed to bring to the city council’s attention:
- Their study did not measure Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM); it used Particulate Matter as a surrogate. This ignores the fact that Diesel Particulate Matter (emissions from diesel trucks) is more hazardous to human health than the same mass of other particulate matters.
- The EPA sets the acceptable cancer risk level at 1 in 1 million. The cancer risk predicted in this study is more than 60 times greater.
- A Harvard study showed that the relationship to DPM exposure and health is linear. Any increase in exposure to DPM causes an equal increase in health risks.
- The US average for air pollution-related cancer deaths is 36 per million. In freeway adjacent parts of LA County where air pollution is most intense that number climbs to 70 per million.
- According to the study’s own findings, the cancer risk to a child between the ages of 2 and 16, living in First Street Village, will be more than twice that of an adult resident. (A cancer risk of 27.62 compared to 13.74)
- This study did not look at the impact of exposure to other toxic gases caused by proximity to the highway which, unlike particulate matter, can not be filtered out.
In a letter to Burbank’s Planning Department the South Coast Air Quality Management District warned, “Cancer risk still remains a significant impact,” despite assurances from the developer that residents could minimize their risk by keeping their windows shut, staying inside and relying on top-of-the-line filtration systems.
That residents will chose to do so — and will instead refrain from using the pool, their balconies and any outdoor building facilities (including the temporary park proposed as an offset to the city granting the development a code variance) — seems, as Ms. Springer pointed out, highly unlikely.
Why it Matters
When it comes to Diesel Particulate Matter (DPMs), cancer risk is only part of the story. Studies indicate it is a genotoxin and suspect it might alter DNA and cause changes at the cellular level. It has been linked to endocrine disruption, decreased fertility and birth defects.
As part of the development agreement, residents of First Street Village will have to sign a waiver acknowledging they’ve been informed of the health implications of their decision to live in the complex and advising them to keep their windows closed and stay indoors as much as possible. This is presumably intended to shield the developer and the city from liability should the predicted health consequences occur.
What might be harder to shield themselves against are the ethical implications of targeting young professionals — the much-desired millennials — with promises of housing that seems appealing on its surface (bike paths, public green spaces, modern conveniences) fully cognizant of the fact that it has the potential to make them — and any children they might decide to have — very sick.
Knowing what we know about the health risks, is building homes for young professionals on this site the right thing to do? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking.
[Editor’s note: This article doesn’t even mention the history of the site where this development sits. Currently there is automotive repair shop that has been there for years and previously there were aircraft related industrial uses. The developer will have to take soil smaples at the site prior to grading to ensure there are no longer any toxins released during construction. More info on pages 60 of this PDF.]