San Antonio Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance

Please sign our petition urging the San Antonio City Council to safeguard our health & safety by adopting a 500-foot safety zone for homes and a 1,000-foot school safety zone.

Getting the Benefits of New Gas Stations Without Sacrificing the Public Health & Safety of San Antonio Residents

San Antonio lacks a law that guides new gas stations to sites where we can get the benefits these businesses provide without jeopardizing public health, safety, and property value.

We’re calling upon the San Antonio City Council to adopt a law similar to that enacted by other cities and counties to require a minimum a 500-foot safety zone between homes and new gas stations and a 1,000-foot separation from schools.

Please join with us by signing our online petition urging the City Council to adopt this law.  We’re also calling upon the City Council to deny rezoning requested by a company wishing to build a gas station in the midst of a number of homes and within 1,000-feet of John J. Pershing Elementary School.

What is the San Antonio Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance?

The Alliance was formed by San Antonio residents living near the site of a proposed gas station and by the parents of children attending nearby John J. Pershing Elementary School.  The following aerial photo shows the site of the proposed gas station, the numerous homes within 500 feet, and the elementary school less than 1,000 feet away.

Particularly troubling is that the company wishing to build the station near the Pershing Elementary neighborhood has asked the City to rezone residential properties to commercial.  If the City Council grants this request then a new gas station could be built in the midst of any San Antonio neighborhood.

For further information about the Alliance contact D’Ette Cole, Acting Chair, at sahealthyna@gmail.com or 210-413-6861.

Gas Station Potential Impacts

Following is a summary of the ways in which a new gas station may impact the health and safety of nearby residents along with the value of their homes.  Clicking the blue text below will take you to the source of these facts.

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

A number of compounds injurious to human health are released while fueling a vehicle and from underground storage tank vents. Health effects range from nausea to cancer. The cancer risk posed by gas station emissions stems from benzene and other compounds released to the atmosphere. Following is a sampling of relevant research:

  • A 2018 study of two 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 50- and 160-meters (162- and 518-feet).
  • Benzene is arguably 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. The following studies document the extent of benzene release from gas stations:
    • A study published by the Canadian petroleum industry found average benzene concentrations of 146 and 461 parts per billion (ppb) at the gas station property boundary in summer and winter, respectively.
    • A South Korean study examined outdoor and indoor benzene concentrations at numerous residences within 100 feet and between 196 to 328 feet of gas stations and found median outdoor benzene concentrations of 3.1 and 1.9 ppb, respectively. Median indoor concentrations at these locations were higher, reaching 4.1 and 5.2 ppb, respectively.
    • Another study found median ambient benzene levels of 1.9 ppb in houses both <165 and >328 feet from a service station.
    • Yet, another study found that benzene and other gasoline vapor releases from service stations can be discerned from traffic emissions as far as 246 feet from service stations and that the contribution of service stations to ambient benzene is less important in areas of high traffic density. This is because vehicle exhaust is usually the most abundant volatile organic compound (VOC) in urban areas, often followed by gasoline vapor emissions from fuel handling and vehicle operation.
    • The California Air Resources Board publication Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective, recommends a minimum 300-foot separation distance between gas stations and “sensitive land uses such as residences, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, or medical facilities.” The State of California is widely recognized as having some of the most effective air pollution control requirements in the nation. Yet even with these controls a minimum separation is still required to protect public health.
  • A 2003-2004 study conducted in France documented a significant relationship between childhood leukemia and living near a gas station.
  • A 2010 study conducted in Spain documented elevated air pollution within 100 meters (328 feet) of a gas station.
  • In 2012, Brazilian researchers found that air quality was significantly degraded up to 150 meters (492 feet) from gas stations.

Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency echoed the concerns about the health risk associated with gas station emissions in their School Siting Guidelines. The USEPA recommended screening school sites for potential health risk when located within 1,000 feet of a high-volume gas station.

The graph above is from the California Air Resources Board Handbook. The graph shows how cancer risk varies with distance from the perimeter of a gas station. Of course the risk also varies with the volume of fuel dispensed at a location. But many of the large combination (hypermart) convenience store-gas stations being built today will sell 3 million gallons a year or more. While the cancer risk may be lower than for the 3,600,000 gallon per year throughput shown in the graph, it is by no means zero. Table 1-1, in the California Air Resources Board Handbook recommended a minimum separation distance of 300 feet between gas stations and “sensitive land uses such as residences, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, or medical facilities.”

Idling engines, particularly those in large diesel trucks, emit a large quantity of particulates into the local atmosphere. These particulates can pose a significant health risk for those living near convenience store/truck stops.

Following are a couple of other examples of health effects associated with convenience stores.

  • A California study noted a 50% increase in smoking among adolescents exposed to tobacco advertising during weekly visits to small grocery, convenience or liquor stores;
  • Poor, inner city neighborhoods tend to lack access to supermarkets with convenience stores and fast food establishments serving as poor substitutes. An East Harlem study found that children with a convenience store on their block were significantly more likely to have a high Body Mass Index.
  • A higher rate of obesity was associated with the presence of convenience stores within a 10-minute walk of a school.

A convenience store could be healthier if it were located in an area accessible by walking or bicycling.

Do Gas Stations Pose A Fire & Explosion Hazard?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is yes.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development will not issue FHA insured mortgages for homes within 300 feet of a tank holding more than 1,000 gallons of gasoline or other flammable-explosive materials.  All gas stations have storage tanks holding more than 1,000 gallons.  This restriction appears in Section 2-2M of the HUD Handbook Valuation Analysis for Single Family One- to Four- Unit Dwellings.

The following excerpt is from a U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development report and shows that while gas station fires-explosions may not be common, they do occur often enough to be a concern for nearby residents:

“During the five-year period of 2004-2008, NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] estimates that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 5,020 in service or gas station properties per year. These fires caused an annual average of two civilian deaths, 48 civilian fire injuries, and $20 million in direct property damage.”

How Do Gas Stations Affect Property Value?

A gas station can lower the value of nearby homes. One of the most plausible effects is on mortgages. As stated above under fire and explosion hazard, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insured mortgages are not available for properties located within 300 feet of tanks capable of storing 1,000 gallons or more of gasoline or other flammable-explosive materials. This restriction appears in Section 2-2M of the HUD Handbook Valuation Analysis for Single Family One- to Four- Unit Dwellings. Most gas station storage tanks have a capacity far in excess of 1,000 gallons.

Examples of Gas Station Safety Zones Laws

Following are a few examples of the many similar regulations adopted by other cities and counties:

  • Rocky Hills, CT: A 1500-foot separation is required between new gas stations and a school, hospital, church, theater, public library or building for public assembly. These setbacks appear in Section 6.1, of the Rocky Hill Zoning Regulations.
  • Santa Rosa County, FL: Following is the text of the Santa Rosa County law which requires a minimum 500-foot separation between new gas station storage tanks and residentially-zoned properties: “In no case shall hazardous or potentially hazardous materials be stored or located in residential zones or within five hundred (500) feet of any residential zone, except for those materials used as fuel by emergency generators for communications towers as provided for in Section 7.01.15 or for public and private utilities. In which case, no hazardous or potentially hazardous materials may be stored within two hundred (200) feet of any residential structure.” This law appears in the Santa Rosa Land Development Code (LDC) at 7.01.14.D.3.c.
  • 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.