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Why the Nishi Site is Worse than Other Sites

Nishi-overall-satelliteSouthwest-nishi-satellite Northeeast-nishi-satelliteIn a recent letter to the editor in the Enterprise, Bill Wagman asks, "What is the difference [between Nishi and Olive Drive] and why do there seem to be no concerns voiced about Olive Drive. Or are there concerns which have not been made public?"

The answer is: It is possible that there are health concerns at other near–freeway sites such as Olive Drive. Peer-reviewed studies have found elevated health risks at many near-freeway sites. But the Nishi is of particular concern because it is adjacent to where the freeway goes from six lanes to three lanes, and so there are often backups on that portion of I-80, especially during weekend Tahoe traffic. More backups mean more car and truck braking. Braking releases ultrafine particulate matter into the air, and that causes health risks such as an increased risk of ischemic heart disease, an increased risk of lung damage, an increased risk of cancer, and an increased risk of developmental problems.

Also, Nishi is of particular concern because the freeway is elevated next to Nishi, so the pollutants travel further, as peer-reviewed studies of similar sites have shown.

Personally, I would be in favor of testing both at Nishi and at other near-freeway sites. (The developers have refused to do on-site testing at Nishi, even though they have spent more than three times the amount that tests would have cost just to promote "yes" votes on the project). But even if all the near-freeway sites turned out to be harmful, I don't think think that our past mistakes should justify future ones.



Nancy Price

I have two friends who live in the apartments on East Olive Drive and they say to me that the air quality is bad, there is dirty soot that settles around, and that it is noisy. They don't complain as that is the only place they have to live.

Roberta L. Millstein

So sorry to hear this, Nancy, but I appreciate your sharing your friends' experiences. I guess that brings me back to the last point in my post: Let's not repeat mistakes of the past. Using past mistakes to justify future ones is a very perverse form of reasoning.

Bill Wagman

That is an interesting point but I think there are still questions. Once past Richards heading east there are still huge amounts of traffic. Perhaps not braking as much but nevertheless. But that doesn't address the similar situation I expect is caused by traffic backing up as it exits I-80 and frequently braking and slowing down and being congested. Where do those pollutants go? I am surprised to learn that no one has actually done any real monitoring.

Roberta L. Millstein

Bill, thanks for re-engaging on this question (and for asking the question in the first place). Although (as I said) I do think there are reasons to think that the Nishi site is worse than other near-freeway sites, I also agree with you that there are still questions, and that we ought to do more monitoring to find out. The City Council could have asked the developer to test the Nishi site, but they chose not to (and meanwhile, the developer has already spent over three times what that testing would have cost just to promote the "yes on Nishi" campaign), and they could have also tested nearby sites for comparison's sake. I think that would be a good thing to do.

Todd Edelman

Tia Will has mentioned in the Davis Vanguard that studies on East Olive residents show no increase in cancer typically-associated with proximity to highways. Is this a long-term study that also follows individuals who've lived there and then moved elsewhere?

Roberta L. Millstein

Todd, I may be misremembering, but I don't think that Tia said that there was a *study* of residents of East Olive, only that she spoke to an epidemiologist that she knows and that that epidemiologist did not know of any increase in cancer among that group. It seems to me that those data would be difficult to obtain and that without a proper study, someone's impression isn't that weighty. But maybe Tia can weigh in herself on this issue.

Robert Canning

I believe Tia’s remarks were based on a conversation with the county epidemiologist who reported that there is no increase in respiratory-related ED visits along the I-80 corridor from Vacaville to just before West Sacramento.

Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks, Robert. I guess I need more detail about that. What's considered the I-80 corridor -- how far away from the highway? Some of these effects are for siting quite close: 500-1000 ft. Are those data published anywhere? Were other factors accounted for, such as age, socio-economic status?

And, of course, no such data could say anything about Nishi itself, since no one is currently living at Nishi (legally).

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