Apple Mountain Health & Safety Alliance
As shown in the aerial below, a gas station-convenience store has been proposed for the entrance to Apple Mountain Lake where our children wait for the school bus. The Apple Mountain Health & Safety Alliance formed after learning of the health and safety threat posed to area residents as well as our school children.
In this webpage we provide a summary of the scientific research showing that area wells and streams will be threatened by pollutants released from the gas station.
We also review the research showing those living within 500- to 1,000-feet of a gas station are at greater risk for adverse health effects which range from nausea to low-birth weight to cancer. The red line in the aerial above shows about a dozen homes are within 500-feet of the gas station site and another two dozen are within 1,000-feet.
There’s also a large body of evidence documenting how the snacks and other unhealthy food sold in convenience stores affects the health of children. Placing a convenience store next to the school bus stop jeopardizes the nutrional safety of our children, possibly leading to increased obesity, diabetes, etc. The science supporting this concern is also provided in this webpage.
We also have safety concerns. No doubt the gas station-convenience store will prompt many of those traveling I-66 to exit. There will be large volumes of traffic entering and exiting near the school bus stop. This poses a threat of pedestrian injuries and making many more people aware that children congregate nearby. As you can imagine, this causes us to entertain our worst fears.
While we realize something will probably be built on the site, as well as on the other vacant land east of Apple Mountain Road, we would prefer land uses that enhance our health and safety. If you agree with us then please sign our petition urging the Warren County Supervisors to deny the rezoning needed to build the gas station-convenience store.
What is the Apple Mountain Health & Safety Alliance?
The Alliance consists of large and growing number of those living in Apple Mountain Lake and neighboring areas. We are deeply troubled by the proposed gas station-convenience store. Thus far 879 area residents have signed a petition urging the Warren County Supervisors to deny approval. The homes where these residents live are represented by the yellow dots in the following aerial photo. To see a sampling of the reasons why people signed the petition click on: https://ceds.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Apple-Mountain-Comments-9-27-2020.pdf
Due to the need to fast track the coordination of a strategy and consistent messaging among so many residents and organizations, Ms. Sarah Lhymn has graciously volunteered to be the primary point of contact for communications with external organizations and coordinating the group efforts as a whole.
Ms. Margaret (Peg) Melberg will coordinate communications within the Apple Mountain Lake community, supporting research and data collection requests from Sarah, and will be in charge of posting all official communications from Sarah that should be considered *official group* communications going forward.
The Alliance has retained Community & Environmental Defense Serives (CEDS) to assist in preserving the health and safety of Apple Mountain Lake and other area residents. You can reach CEDS president Richard Klein at 410-654-3021 (in Baltimore) or Help@ceds.org.
The Proposed Gas Station-Convenience Store
Following is the plan showing the layout of the proposed gas station-convenience store. Note that the plan below does show a proposed shelter for children awaiting the school bus. While this is certainly a positive step, it does not resolve concerns about the unhealthy convenience store foods our children will no doubt find irresistable. Nor does it resolve the concern about area visitors learning that our children congregate near the gas station-convenience store.
Following is the original plan showing that the gas station-convenience store would have been a truck stop too. Though we are grateful that the truck stop has been abandoned, we are concerned that the current proposed layout would accommodate the truck stop at some point in the future.
Well-Water, Streams, River, Lake Impacts
A stream originates on the site which is a tributary of Manassas Run and the Shenandoah River. Area homeowners rely upon groundwater tapped by their wells for washing, cooking, and drinking. Because of the high traffic volume and refueling, convenience stores-gas stations pose an unusually severe threat to ground and surface waters.
One study found that contaminant levels in convenience store-gas station runoff were 5- to 30-times higher when compared to residential runoff. In another study researchers detected several compounds in vehicle repair facility runoff which were probable cancer-causing agents. These findings have prompted a number of states and local governments to list vehicle repair facilities as stormwater hotspots. USEPA guidance advises caution with regard to allowing hotspot runoff to infiltrate the soil, particularly in areas where drinking water is obtained through wells.
Fuel storage tanks and pipelines pose another source of contamination, though the design of both has improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. Spillage at the pump is a more likely source of fuel release into nearby waterways. In fact, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that an average of 40 gallons of gasoline is spilled at a typical gas station per year at the pumps. The JHU researchers also found that a significant portion of the spilled gasoline can migrate through the concrete pads at many fueling stations.
So how far should a gas station be from a well or surface waters to reduce the likelihood of contamination to a reasonable level? The key question is actually how far can one anticipate that a plume of spilled gasoline will travel underground. One review of scientific studies of plume travel indicated that the 90th percentile distance is 400 feet. Add another 100 feet for installing grout curtains or other containment measures and a gas station should be no closer than 500 feet to a well, wetland, spring, stream, river, pond, lake, reservoir or tidal waters.
Health Effects: Is It Safe to Live Near a Gas Station?
A number of the 3,000 or so U.S. counties have adopted laws requiring a public health safety zone between new gas station sites and residentially- zoned property, schools, hospitals and other sensitive land uses. Following are examples from around the U.S. of various safeguards with regard to the public health effects of air pollutants released at gas stations:
- Islip, NY: No gasoline service station premises shall be permitted to locate within 200 feet of a school, playground, recreation center, public library, or church, except as hereinafter provided.
- Blaine, MN: Automobile service station and minor auto repair. Gasoline sales must be a minimum of one thousand (1,000) feet from public school buildings that serve students primarily in grades 6th through 12th and a minimum of four hundred (400) feet from public school buildings that serve students primarily in grades Kindergarten through 5th Grade.
- Montgomery County, MD: Any Filling Station facility designed to dispense a minimum of 3.6 million gallons per year must be located at least 500 feet from the lot line of any public or private school, or any park, playground, day care center, or any outdoor use categorized as a civic and institutional use or a Recreation and Entertainment use.
- Borough of Bergenfield, NJ: Location of exits and entrances. No gas station, or vehicular repair service shop shall be located within 300 feet of the following uses when located along the same street or the same block: schools, playgrounds, churches, hospitals, libraries, institutions for dependent children, or other similar places of public assembly.
Unfortunately, the Zoning Ordinance of Warren County, Virginia does not appear to contain a public health safety zone requirement for new gas stations. Fortunately, though, the ordinance does grant the Board of Supervisors with the authority to deny the rezoning and other approvals required to build the proposed gas station.
Scientific Research Summary
A number of compounds injurious to human health are released from gas stations during vehicle fueling and from underground storage tank vents: benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene (BTEX). Of these, benzene is the gasoline constituent most harmful to human health. Adverse health effects of benzene include cancer, anemia, increased susceptibility to infections, and low birth weight. According to the World Health Organization Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality, there is no safe level for benzene. As explained later, measures to reliably resolve these adverse health effects are not employed at new gas stations.
In 2005, the California Air Resources Board recommended a minimum 50- to 300-foot public health safety zone between new gas stations and “sensitive land uses such as residences, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, or medical facilities.” The recommendation appeared in Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective. The State of California is widely recognized as having some of the most effective air pollution control requirements in the nation. Yet even with California controls a minimum separation was still required to protect public health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency echoed concerns about the health risk associated with gas station emissions in their School Siting Guidelines. The USEPA recommended screening – but not excluding – school sites for potential health risk when located within 1,000 feet of a gas station.
The safety zone distances were prompted by the growing body of research showing that adverse health effects extend further and further from gas stations.
A seminal 2015 study contained the following summary regarding the health implications of living, working or learning near a gas station:
“Health effects of living near gas stations are not well understood. Adverse health impacts may be expected to be higher in metropolitan areas that are densely populated. Particularly affected are residents nearby gas stations who spend significant amounts of time at home as compared to those who leave their home for work because of the longer period of exposure. Similarly affected are individuals who spend time close to a gas station, e.g., in close by businesses or in the gas station itself. Of particular concern are children who, for example, live nearby, play nearby, or attend nearby schools, because children are more vulnerable to hydrocarbon exposure.”
A 2019 study of U.S. gas stations found that benzene emissions from underground gasoline storage tank vents were sufficiently high to constitute a health concern at a distance of up to 518-feet. Also, the researchers noted:
“emissions were 10 times higher than estimates used in setback regulations [like that in the California handbook] used to determine how close schools, playgrounds, and parks can be situated to the facilities [gas stations].”
Prior to the 2019 study it was thought that most of the benzene was released at the pump during fueling.
Control Measures Will Not Resolve Health Threat
A decade ago most gas pump nozzles were designed to capture vapors released during refueling. The vapors were then sent to the 10,000- to 20,000-gallon underground tanks where gasoline is stored. These Stage II vapor recovery systems were phased out beginning in 2012 as a result of the widespread use of Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR) systems.
As the name implies, Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery systems are built into new cars. The system captures vapors during refueling which are then stored in canisters within the vehicle.
A study published in February, 2020, examined the effectiveness of Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery systems. The researchers found that 88% of vehicles monitored released vapors during refueling despite the presence of Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery systems.
The 2019 study cited previously addressed the release of benzene from underground gasoline storage tank vents. The 2019 study documented that the amount of benzene released was substantial and could be detected at a distance of up to 518 feet.
The unfortunate conclusion from these studies is that we cannot rely upon controls required for new gas stations to resolve the health and safety threat to those who live, learn, or work in the vicinity. At this point physical distancing of 500 feet or more is the only measure that appears to resolve the public health and safety impact.
Convenience Stores As Food Swamps
Food Swamp establishments include fast-food, carry-out and other restaurants as well as convenience stores. The following more precise definition comes from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future…
“A food swamp is a place where unhealthy foods are more readily available than healthy foods. (Unhealthy foods include those that are dense in calories, high in sodium, and high in sugar.) Food swamps typically exist in food deserts, where there are limited options for purchasing healthy foods. For example, a food swamp might be an area where there is a predominance of small corner stores and carry-outs, but no healthy food sources, such as supermarkets or farmers markets.”
The following abstract is from a research paper entitled Proximity of food retailers to schools and rates of overweight ninth grade students. While the researchers focused on food swamps near schools, we suspect they would agree their findings are applicable to convenience stores at school bus stops.