Several Kutztown University students and professors showed their support of emission control reform while several Kutztown small-business owners and Borough residents showed their support of Allentown & Auburn Railroad’s operations during the November Borough Council meeting.
The American Lung Association’s Director of Environmental Health Advocacy and Public Policy Kevin Stewart presented health concerns posed by diesel exhaust from train emissions. He gave a brief presentation discussing potential preventative measures that could be taken by the Allentown & Auburn Railroad to protect public health in the borough.
Stewart also discussed irritation to the respiratory system and aggravation to those with preexisting conditions such as asthma and emphysema. He broke down Kutztown’s overall population of 5,059 into several groups particularly effected by diesel exhaust and particulate matter including those with COPD (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema) at 286, Heart Disease at 370, Diabetes at 431, Pediatric Asthma at 101 and Adult Asthma at 417.
Pine Street resident Phila Back has presented concerns during previous Borough Council meetings and has now issued a town-wide petition to mitigate train idling times near residential areas in the borough. Back also previously recommended that the A&A Railroad pursue DEP Mobile Sources grants to retrofit their engines. Back has been tracking train idling times since June 30 until present day.
“It aggravates my asthma and I really fear it will give me a fatal asthma attack,” said Back. “It is very harmful to children with a particulate damage to lungs that is not a temporary irritation like pollen or dust allergies, it causes permanent damage that is cumulative.”
Back stated that out of the 10 homes along Pine Street near the train station, six residents are older than age 65 and three are children.
In response to Stewart’s presentation and Back’s petition proposal, President of the A&A Railroad Michael Bast clarified several inaccuracies found in Back’s research and tracking of idling times; however, according to Back, “these inaccuracies were limited to the immense amount of evidence provided.”
Bast also explained that while these trains are “regulated by the government as to standards [the railroad] needs to maintain,” the federal government provides regulation leniencies to historic steam-powered locomotives and locomotives originally manufactured before 1973.
“The amount of usage that these things see is not that much, the duration of time that these locomotives run isn’t that often,” said Bast. “There is more harm coming from trucks, buses, and homes that use furnaces to burn oil in their basements. I do not feel that we are a reason for concern at all.”
Bast said, “Not only is the freight traffic that we’re bringing in and out of Kutztown an economic boost for the community, but so is the fact that we’re bringing in tourists to the area. We’ve actually brought people in from all over the world at this point to come and visit the railroad, so I see us as a positive influence to not only Kutztown but Berks County as a whole.”
Borough Manager Gabriel Khalife stated “without use of the A&A Railroad, we would need to use trucks to carry freight” which, as stated by Bast, result in more particulate pollution and diesel emissions.
Khalife said the A&A Railroad has multiple benefits ranging from economic to recreation.
When asked if the petition would push further discussion of train emissions, Khalife said, “Whether it was 1 person or 100 people, the Borough would have responded the same way.”
Kutztown resident Katelyn Quinn, a KU student, attended both the October and November Borough Council meetings.
“Local residents who live in the area with preexisting conditions may have no choice but to move out of the borough,” said Quinn. “Potential future residents, [such as] students and visitors who hear of this, will be less likely to want to visit our town or might put themselves at risk unknowingly if they have a preexisting condition and are exposed to these conditions during their time in our town.”
Following the meeting, Quinn said it is the Borough’s duty to protect its citizens and at least hear their concerns.
“Though I understand this is a complicated matter, the borough has a lot of power to change it and they seem more concerned with protecting the Railroad than the citizens,” said Quinn.
The Borough Council has approved the A&A Railroad’s use of the Train Station for the upcoming 2019 year without imposed regulations for idling.
The Kutztown Environmental Advisory Commission plans to work with KU Environmental Chemistry professor Dr. Julie Palkendo to take air quality tests throughout Kutztown. They also stated during the Borough Council meeting that they recommend the railroad take further action and work with concerned borough residents to reduce exposure to diesel exhaust.