For more than a century locomotives have passed through the San Bernardino rail yard delivering goods to the Inland Empire. The rail yard is one of the busiest facilities of its kind in California.
South Coast Air Quality Management District and Loma Linda University have teamed up in a new effort to find out just how much of a health problem it is. Starting Thursday, the area will be the focus of an air quality study to measure its impact on the surrounding community.
"I want to talk about the issue of health and how to mitigate the impact of diesel pollution that flows from that yard," said San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris.
The study will be done in three parts- the first will focus on environmental health risks. The other two will look at respiratory diseases and other health issues like cancer in adults and children.
"Something needs to be done," said Mary Diaz. She lives less than a block from the rail yard. In 2007 she was diagnosed with lymphoma and believes her illness was a result of breathing the unhealthy air.
"I am worried about the people that live around here," said Diaz. "And that odor at times it's very strong."
Neighbors say air pollution is not their only concern.
"A lot of noise," said resident Xavier Davalos. "Especially when trains come through they like to blow their whistle. I know it is a safety thing for them, but it is really loud."
But rail officials say they've been good neighbors. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail managed to cut emissions at its facility by 50 percent with newer locomotives and idle reduction devices. They also believe the air quality study unfairly targets them.
"We don't see how they are going to be able to isolate our facility as a source of health issues in the community," said Lena Kent from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail. "Given that it is adjacent to a major freeway as well as multiple businesses in the area."
Researchers say residents will be randomly selected in the 2-year-long study. They are hoping the study will influence policy to the rail yard.