By Heather Gursky
Assistant A&E Editor
Prior to their monthly meeting on Nov. 20, Kutztown Borough Council heard a presentation from Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health Advocacy and Public Policy for the American Lung Association, regarding the hazards and known facts of diesel exhaust.
According to the meeting agenda, the presentation was prompted by concerns raised by Phila Back, a resident of Pine Street, which parallels the Allentown and Auburn Railroad.
Stewart spoke about the composition of diesel exhaust, noting that there are tiny particles within the exhaust fumes that can risk resident’s lives with short-term exposure.
In his presentation, Stewart shows an estimation of the population of borough residents who are at risk. This estimation included residents with health issues such as asthma, diabetes, and COPD. Infants and individuals over 65 were also on the list for those with increased risk.
Stewart then displayed an aerial view of the train station, 232 Railroad Street, focusing in on 150 miles around it. Inside the specified radius, the circle showed the station’s proximity to residences.
Stewart raised concern regarding the railroad and its use of engines that carry high percentages of pollutants, as well as timesheets documenting idling near resident’s homes for as long as four hours.
Following Stewart’s presentation was A&A President Mike Bast who addressed the engine concern with a codebook showing that the train engines are in regulation. He then read documents showing inaccuracies within the time sheets logged on dates such as June 30.
Another date was Sept. 3. Bast claims the railroad had already compromised on changing trains idle times by that date. Other inaccuracies were presented to the panel inside a packet Bast handed out to the council.
After both presentations, the council opened the floor to public comment.
Concerns regarding the railroad’s emissions were first raised in October by Back at the borough council, at which point Back suggested retrofitting the railroad’s diesel locomotive. The railroad later issued a statement to address the suggestions.
“Our Engine 206 is an important part of railroading history in not only Pennsylvania, but in the entire country, and we are proud to be able to preserve it for the enjoyment of people of all ages,” said Bast in the statement. “With regard to Ms. Back’s concerns about its idling and exhaust, the A&A had already agreed to move the engine away from the station between runs and allow it to idle farther down the track away from her house. The engine cannot be turned off and on throughout an operating day, but we will do our best to minimize any inconvenience to Ms. Back.”