Local environmentalists are teaming up to fight against the Loop 202 extension and a study released earlier in the year is feeding their cause.
A partnership of federal, state, local and tribal air pollution control officials conducted a study in 2005 as part of the Joint Air Toxins Assessment Project (JATAP). The goal of the study was to determine which toxics are of the most concern for South Phoenix and tribal communities. The study was conducted in 2005 and released in 2006, but wasn’t actually available online until earlier this year. Steve Brittle, an active environmentalist and head of Don’t Waste Arizona, said when he finally got his hands on the results of the study he was shocked.
“The JATAP is done all over the country,” Brittle said. “We know about dust and all that, but this is about toxic chemicals in the air. One of the things Gerry Hiatt, a toxicologist for the EPA, said during a presentation about this study is that Phoenix is one of the most polluted as far as toxic chemicals in the country.”
One of the testing sites was located on the Gila River Indian Community at St. Johns. Many toxics found at that location were transportation related, Brittle said. Benzene, 1,3-butadiene, carbon tetrachloride and hexachlorobutadiene were all recorded at levels well above the cancer benchmark. The study does say, however, that only the levels of tetrachloroethene and benzene can be used to estimate adverse health risk.
“If you look at the topography you can see this huge cloud of whatever it is right at the 51st Street pass,” Brittle said. “It’s been an ongoing problem. That’s where the air flows. Many of the toxics that are showing up high on the GRIC are related to transportation exhaust. There are not a lot of people that live there so the natural conclusion is they’re having high levels coming from Interstate 10 east and Ahwatukee.”
Brittle and Pat Lawlis, head of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children, say they fear that not enough Ahwatukee Foothills residents realize the amount of pollution already getting trapped near Ahwatukee Foothills and GRIC. While the study shows that St. Johns is not the worst air in the Valley, a freeway will still make the problem worse, they said.
“These are the kinds of things that have snuck up on people before and people often don’t get mobilized about it until they see lots of people dying of cancer and this type of thing,” Lawlis said. “I think looking at the possibility of this freeway is a good time to realize this is happening and there’s something we need to do about this before it gets worse.”
The study was conducted at five sites operated by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as well as a senior center site, Queen Valley and St. Johns. Data was collected from January 2005 to January 2006. A complete 77-page report, which is available online through the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, says the data collected at multiple sites are “relatively imprecise” and that comparisons of this data with other data sets should be made with caution.
Brittle, who has conducted many environmental law suits since the ’90s, says this report will be necessary for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to include in its Draft Environmental Impact Study, which is expected to be released sometime this year. Lawlis said PARC is working on gathering contact information for its members to better mobilize once the DEIS is released.
While the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and ADOT are moving forward with a DEIS to put the freeway on the Pecos Road alignment, a group called Gila River Landowners has collected enough signatures to have an initiative placed on the ballot for the tribal community. If that initiative passes it could mean the freeway could still be built on tribal land.
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