Carmel Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance

Please sign our petition urging the City of Carmel Common Council to safeguard our health & safety.

Several months ago, residents of the Carmel, West Clay neighborhood heard that a Family Express gas station-convenience store was proposed within a few feet of their homes.  They began researching whether there were reasons to be concerned in addition to having a high-use commercial area so close to their homes.

The West Clay residents learned that a number of scientific studies have documented an increased risk of cancer and other adverse health effects among those living, learning or working within 500- to a 1,000-feet of a gas station.

The aerial below shows the location of the proposed Family Express gas station-convenience store.  There are about a thousand people living in 500 or so households within the yellow, 1,000-foot public health and safety impact zone shown below.

The young and older adults are particularly vulnerable to the adverse health effects of gas station emissions. The aerial above shows there’s a school and a senior living community within 1,000 feet of the proposed Family Express gas station.

West Clay residents also learned the convenience store would likely sell alcoholic beverages.  There’s a large and growing body of research showing that as the number of carry-out liquor stores increases in a neighborhood like West Clay so do crime rates and alcohol related health issues.  The aerial above shows there’s already two carry outs nearby by.  The Family Express would add a third.

Most disturbing of all, West Clay residents learned that unlike Hamilton County, the City of Carmel does not require a public health and safety zone between gas stations and homes, schools, or other locations where vulnerable populations may be exposed to benzene and other harmful gas station emissions.  Nor are control measures required that might resolve the health effects of new gas stations.

These realizations prompted the West Clay residents to form the Carmel Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance.  Afterall, if new gas stations and liquor stores threaten West Clay residents then all Carmel neighborhoods are also at risk.

The Alliance retained an attorney and Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) to assist in forming a strategy to preserve West Clay and all other Carmel neighborhoods.

The proposed Family Express required a number of variances.  We suspect that after the Alliance hired a highly-respected attorney, Family Express withdrew their variance requests and redesigned the project to eliminate this legal hurdle.

The CEDS gas station-convenience store webpage provided much of the research cited here.  CEDS has also helped many communities across the U.S. resolve concerns about poorly planned gas stations.

Our goal is to provide the Common Council with the public support they need to update the Unified Development Ordinance with a new gas station public health safety zone requirement.  This support must come from West Clay and all other Carmel neighborhoods.  Please join with us in providing the Council with this support by signing our petition

The aerial below shows the location (yellow dot) of the many Carmel residents who’ve signed our petition.  To learn why so many have signed the petition see their comments at: https://ceds.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/PetitionSignerConcerns.pdf

Our proposed health and safety zone will not preclude new gas stations in Carmel.  Instead, it will guide new stations to locations where we can enjoy the benefits without exposing our neighbors to harmful emissions.

We’re also looking into measures to accommodate the need for new alcohol carry out stores without jeopardizing neighborhood safety and health.

For further information contact acting Alliance chair Jackie Phillips at (317) 260-6575 or jackiephillips16@gmail.com.

Health Effects: Is It Safe to Live Near a Gas Station?

A number of compounds injurious to human health are released from gas stations during vehicle fueling and from underground storage tank vents.  These harmful compounds include: 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

The two most common control measures are Stage II Vapor Recovery and Onboard Refueling Vapor Recovery (ORVR).

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 to capture 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 and newer cars 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.

Minimum 500-Foot Public Health Safety Zone Needed

Hamilton County only requires a 300-foot safety zone between between gas pumps and storage tanks.  It appears this requirement does not reflect current research.

As noted above, current research documents that benzene can be detected at a distance of more than 500 feet from a gas station.  This is why we’re calling upon the Carmel Common Council to adopt a minimum 500-foot public health safety zone between new gas station sites and residential zoned properties as well as schools, daycare centers, assisted living facilities, senior living establishments, and other sensitive uses.

So, please sign our petition urging the City of Carmel Common Council to require a minimum 500-foot public health safety zone between the gas station site and the nearest residential property.

Safety Zone Will Guide New Gas Stations To Lower-Impact Sites

The proposed 500-Foot Public Health Safety Zone will not preclude new gas stations within the City of Carmel.  We know this because we analyzed the effect of the 500-foot setback on the 14 existing gas stations in Carmel.  Of course our proposed setback will only apply to new stations.

The 14 stations are shown in the following aerial along with the Family Express proposed for the West Clay neighborhood.

The red and green rings are located 500-feet from the outer edge of each gas station site.  The stations with green rings are more than 500 feet from the nearest home.  The red ringed station are within 500 feet of a home.

Of the 14 stations, nine have green rings.  This indicates that the 500-foot public health safety zone would not prevent new gas stations.  Instead, the zoning amendment would guide new stations to sites where we can gain the benefits of these retail establishments without jeopardizing the health of our Carmel neighbors.

Alcohol Beverage Carry-Out Store, Crime & Public Health

CEDS provided the Alliance with a review of a number of scientific studies relevant to the potential effect of carry out alcohol sales on crime and public health.  The intent of this review was to provide neighborhood residents with a starting point for a discussion of the science regarding alcoholic beverage sales and neighborhood safety.

The gist of these studies is that a positive relationship exists between crime as well as adverse health effects and the number of off-sale retail outlets in a given area. 24/7 outlets tend to have an even more negative effect.  We’ve learned that alcohol sales at gas station convenience stores are particularly problematic.  These outlets tend to sell alcoholic beverages for lower prices and in larger quantities, which could attract those living outside our six neighborhoods.  Of greatest concern is that children passing by these outlets may be at increased risk.

These findings indicate that allowing carry out sales of alcoholic beverages at the proposed convenience store could increase crime and other adverse health effects, especially if the stores are open 24/7.  We are now researching actions the Carmel Common Council could take to curb the proliferation of liquor stores in neighborhoods.