By Thomas Cahill
Early childhood education. Daycare. Services for the elderly, Cold weather shelters, … I’m sure that the leaders of bankrupt Flint, Michigan, had all sorts of plans for the money saved by going from the more expensive water of Detroit to the cheaper source, the Flint River. I truly hope that no one knew of the hazards the more acidic water of the Flint, River would have on the old lead pipes in the city.
I truly hope that no one knew how easy and cheap it would be to add materials to the water to mitigate the impact. I really hope it was ignorance, because if it was deliberate, it was criminal and people should be in prison!
Housing for students. Bike access to the city. Parks and open space. Money for Davis city coffers (maybe…) I’m sure the leaders of Davis have all sorts of plans for the money earned by developing Nishi. The space is ideal for research, high tech industry and the like. But can you really think anyone in their right mind would like to live there?
Miserable access through a congested business area, constant noise from cars, trucks and trains, and the stink of air pollution? But regretfully the proposed Nishi project includes a lot of residential development, both rented and for purchase.
But most important, Nishi runs directly into the new knowledge of the threat of freeways on human health. I worked hard to get lead out of California gasoline in the 1970s, (for which my program was shut down by Ronald Reagan). But with the help of Jerry Brown ver 1.0, we triumphed, and the world followed. In that triumph we let our guard down on other highway impacts,
We have always known that diesel exhaust causes cancer, and provides about 2/3 of all the cancer threat from all the Proposition 65 toxic air contaminants in California. We have long known that a very small number of cars, perhaps 1 in 10, somehow avoids our smog check systems and provides about 2/3 of the pollution of all cars combined.
But beginning in the late 1990s, new threats were discovered. It became clear that children living near freeways permanently lost lung capacity – a lot of lung capacity. Abundant data showed enhanced asthma from living near freeways. And then there was VW gaming the system for years.
We discovered in 1997 that Bakersfield had lots of early heart attacks, about a 60% higher rate of lethal heart attacks than in Davis. In 2007 we showed the cause was ultra-fine metals from the brakes of cars and trucks on I-5 Grapevine grade and the Tehachapi Pass.
Sacramento is also somewhat impacted from its tight freeway network, and also has enhanced heart attack rates. And in 2010, researchers, including some at the UCD MIND Institute, published results showing that getting pregnant within 1020 feet of a freeway enhances your chances of having an autistic child by 86%.
Based upon all these published peer reviewed studies, we conclude that Nishi is an almost “Perfect Storm” of freeway impacts – an upwind freeway with heavy traffic and a high truck admixture, with massive braking and acceleration directly upwind of Nishi, an over-crossing that pitches pollutants across the entire venue, a berm to help trap winter pollution on site during stagnation periods, and trains accelerating as they go west.
The Ascent environmental company doing the Davis Environmental Impact Report (EIR), reported that impacts from air pollution were “…significant and unavoidable” (4.3-33) …” . I presented these data to the Planning Commission in detail last October. I have forwarded all this information routinely to the Council.
In terms of potential mitigation, I have also forwarded to the developer and City the information on filtration of ultra-fine metals, the same protocols I am using with the US Embassy in Beijing. However, these protocols have never been proven in realistic buildings with active residents.
The open spaces are great, but there is no way to mitigate air pollution impacts there, which are worse if you exercise and breathe through your mouth. Trees will eventually help, as we saw a factor of 2 mitigation of ultra-fine metals in Land Park east of I-5 in 2010, but it will take decades for the trees to grow to adequate size. So even with these efforts, the site is unfit for residential use.
Eventually the state will have to address the problems of gross emitting cars, 3 axel diesels, metal additives in motor oil and diesel fuel, and ultra-fine metals from brake drums and pads. In the interim, people should not be encouraged to live in an area rife with invisible but dangerous ultra-fine pollutants.
We can’t get away with using fixes like the bottled water as they are doing in Flint. Nishi is a great site for research and light industry, and even these buildings should have enhanced air cleaning systems.
Keep it at that. If Nishi goes on the ballot with its current residential component, everybody in Davis should know what we are doing to future residents of Nishi. Thus, unlike Flint, no one can claim ignorance as a defense.
Note: While most of these materials are in the City of Davis EIR, I will post further references and materials on my DELTA Group web site http://delta.ucdavis.edu
Tom Cahill, a resident of Davis since 1967, is a UC Davis professor emeritus of physics and atmospheric sciences and head of DELTA Group.