Metra completes first round of air-quality testing

November 19, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The testing began after questions were raised several weeks ago about air quality on Metra trains.

The test samples are expected to be collected by mid-December. In anticipation of the results, a task force is moving ahead to look for cleaner ways to move Metra.

Commuters on Metra's Rock Island line had company Friday morning as consultants hired by Metra tested the air quality in the trains following a Tribune investigation that found air contaminants from the locomotive's diesel exhaust.

"It does take four seats, so you might see four testers taking up four seats. They have a big, black box in the middle and they have a number of different instruments to test the quality of the air on board the trains," said Judy Pardonnet, Metra spokeswomen.

Industrial hygienists like Karen Boyce-Lindgren were out Friday morning taking air samples. They started on the Rock Island line and will continue testing air quality in Metra trains for the next few weeks. Their devices test for several components of diesel exhaust, including any chemicals, dust and gases that may be present.

"They're just collecting samples of the average air at the place that they are in at the time they sample," said Karen Boyce-Lindgren, Carnow, Conibear & Association.

According to Metra officials, approximately 25 people sit on the task force. Some of its members include OSHA and EPA representatives, as well as individuals from other groups. They met to examine Metra air quality met for the second time Friday. The task force will look at ways to reduce diesel exhaust, like ventilation, fuel options and federal grants to help pay for remedies.

"The engine is so big, the exhaust isn't much different that's coming out of anything else, it's just a larger volume," said Rich Soukup, task force chairman and Metra chief mechanical officer.

Brian Urbaszewski, task force member and director of environmental health for the Respiratory Health Association, supports efforts to clean up diesel operations as he says diesel exhaust has been linked to asthma attacks, heart attacks and other disease.

"It's shown that raelly diesel exhaust puts you at an increased risk for lung cancer and there's over 40 toxix chemicals in diesel exhaust that can contribute to that," said Urbaszewski.

On Monday, the consultants will start collecting air samples on Union Station South Side lines, North Side lines and the lines that use Ogilvie Transportation Center. They will likely test during rush hour, so passengers may notice the equipment.

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