Durbin wants EPA probe on train pollution

A Metra Electric Line train on an overpass at 100th St. in September 2007. T (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

November 8, 2010 3:45:59 PM PST
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is calling for an Environmental Protection Agency probe of reports toxic diesel pollution is inundating commuter rail cars and Chicago's two major rail stations.

Durbin made the request Monday in response to reports lingering diesel soot increases as Metra commuters walk deeper into Union Station or the Ogilvie center.

The Chicago Tribune reports pollution levels are higher on platforms, where diesel exhaust hover between Metra trains.

Tests conducted for the Tribune also found as a train pulls out of the station, the air trapped inside passenger cars contain levels of diesel soot up to 72 times higher than on streets outside.

Durbin is urging the EPA, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and two federal transportation agencies to assess health risks caused by breathing high levels of diesel exhaust.

Metra trains often sit for extended periods of time in its station downtown with the engines idling, producing emissions and particulate that could be extremely dangerous.

"Diesel this type has been linked to asthma attacks, to heart attacks, to premature deaths, to multiple, multiple health problems," said Joel Africk of the Repiratory Health Association.

"We want to make sure that we have a thorough, complete investigation to determine the dangers for those who were on trains and those who walked through the station from this type of air-quality hazard," said Sen. Durbin.

Durbin is asking for increased federal funding to upgrade equipment, some of which has been in use since the early 1970s. A spokesperson for Metra says the agency is also concerned and looking for solutions.

"We are going to be doing our own testing, and we're going to work together and come up with a solution once we diagnose exactly how severe the problem is," said Judy Pardonnet, Metra spokesperson.

Nearly a quarter million commuters travel through Union and Ogilvie stations downtown every day, and some are concerned about ventilation in the stations as well.

"It's shocking. I would not take the train on a regular basis knowing this," said John Walton, commuter.

"I read the report. Nothing that I am really concerned about. When you live in the big city, there are things you have to contend with, and I think this is one of them," said Steve Rak, commuter.

Sen. Durbin says he hopes to minimize soot from the issues commuters have to deal with soon.

"Now we are talking about secondhand soot, the soot from these diesel engines that, frankly, could endanger the lives of so many people," said Durbin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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