Sipping a cup of coffee with a friend al fresco on the streetscape near Eighth and Grand may sound idyllic, but could be hazardous to your health from the exhaust fumes emitted by the passing parade of diesel trucks.
Local businesses and Glenwood Springs residents have long expressed concern over the effects of steadily increasing Highway 82 traffic on Grand Avenue on Glenwood Springs’ downtown environment. That traffic is hardly conducive to preserving the City’s small-town image and providing a pedestrian-friendly environment for the enjoyment of its residents and as an attraction for tourists.
But there is another issue we should all be concerned about (but which has received too little attention), and that is the public health effects of that traffic, in particular, diesel trucks. They are not just obtrusive, noisy, and incompatible with the ambiance of our downtown that we are striving to preserve, but they constitute a serious public heath threat.
A California study has shown that overall, diesel trucks are the major and most pervasive source of air pollution, and that although they make up only 2 percent of motorized vehicle traffic, they are responsible for 70 percent of the cancer risk from toxic air pollutants in vehicle exhausts.
Traffic counts have shown that the percentage of diesel trucks on Grand Avenue may be more than twice as high as in the California study.
Diesel exhaust contains over 40 substances listed by the EPA as health hazards. The major offenders are fine particulates in the black diesel smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from incomplete combustion, nitrogen oxides, and ozone, all of which can lead to lung cancer. Symptoms include eye irritation, coughs from irritation of the nose, throat and lungs, increased susceptibility to allergies such as dust and pollen, headaches, lightheadedness, and nausea.
Fine particulates can damage lung tissue, particularly in children, and are a known carcinogen. They can also aggravate existing heart and lung disease (COPD and asthma), especially in the elderly.
VOCs can produce respiratory tract problems, including reduced lung function and difficulty in breathing.
Exposure to nitrogen oxides can cause lung irritation, lowering resistance to respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
Ozone can cause eye irritation, nasal congestion, asthma, and premature aging of lung tissue, reducing resistance to lung infections.
Improvements in both engines and fuel have reduced emissions of some of the pollutants in diesel exhausts, but those exhausts are still one of the most widespread toxic substances in the air we breath. The odor of diesel exhaust has been reduced by removal of sulfur dioxide, coincidentally diminishing our awareness of the concentration in which it is present and the range over which it is spread.
The diesel-exhaust problem on Grand Avenue is magnified by the idling imposed by the four traffic signals from Eighth Street to 11th Street, which increases the concentration of exhaust products, especially fine particulates and VOCs produced by the uphill acceleration from a stop, from trucks headed south from Eighth Street and from those headed north onto the Grand Avenue bridge. People working downtown, and children on their way to school are breathing these harmful exhaust products every day, and shoppers and tourists (and al fresco coffee drinkers) will be inclined to avoid them by going somewhere else.
Putting an end to this health threat hanging over our downtown is just another reason for getting the truck traffic off Grand Avenue as soon as possible.
That certainly will not be accomplished by building a new bridge which will continue to pour even more truck traffic onto Grand Avenue. We need to make Grand Avenue known for its relaxing and friendly ambiance, not as a public health hazard, by speaking out for getting the heavy truck traffic out of our downtown.
— “As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.