Sumner Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance

Getting the Benefits of New Gas Stations Without Jeopardizing the Health of Sumner Residents

Please sign our petition urging the Sumner City Council to enact public health safety zones between new gas stations and our homes and schools.

A new 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store has been proposed for the southeast corner of Main Street and Valley Avenue in Sumner.  After learning of this proposal, area residents  began researching whether there were reasons to be concerned about having a gas station-convenience store close to their homes.

The residents learned that a number of scientific studies have documented an increased risk of cancer and other adverse health effects among those living within 500- to a 1,000-feet of a gas station.  The risk is due to benzene and other harmful compounds released from underground gasoline storage tank vents and at the pump.  

The residents also learned that neither local nor state laws require measures that can prevent the adverse health effects.  The only measure which is effective is to guide new gas stations to sites that are at least 500 feet from the nearest home.  

As shown in the aerial below, numerous existing homes would be within 500 feet of the proposed 7-Eleven gas station.  

This realization prompted the residents to launch an effort to urge the Sumner City Council to require a minimum 500-foot public health safety zone for all new gas stations; but not existing ones.  The residents formed the Sumner Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance to lead this effort.

The Sumner Zoning Regulations allow new gas stations in many locations throughout the City.  It is for this reason that the Alliance is calling upon all Sumner residents to join with us and many of your neighbors in signing our petition.  

In the petition we call upon the City Council to require that new gas stations be at least 500 feet from a home.  This public health safety zone will not preclude new gas stations in Sumner.  Instead it will guide new stations to locations where we can enjoy the benefits these businesses provide without jeopardizing the health of our neighbors.

Community & Environmental Defense Services (CEDS) is assisting the Alliance in forming a strategy to preserve all Sumner neighborhoods.  The CEDS gas station-convenience store webpage provided much of the research cited here.  CEDS has also helped many communities across the U.S. ensure their safety from the potential negative effects from being too close to gas stations.

For further information contact Alliance chair Rachel Oberg at (707) 330-2250 or  rachelvanscoy7@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 was possibly the first to call for a minimum 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.  Sumner High is within 1,000 feet of the proposed 7-Eleven 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

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 Sumner City Council to adopt a minimum 500-foot public health safety zone between new gas station sites and homes or residentially-zoned properties along with a 1,000-foot setback from schools.

So, please sign our petition urging the City 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

For reasons explained in the video at the following address, new gas stations tend to locate near existing ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4cKzGj58q4. The aerial below shows the location of 10 existing gas stations in the Sumner area. Gas station with red circles are within 500 feet of a home. Those with green circles are more than 500 feet from the nearest home.

Of the 10 stations, 7 (70%) would meet the 500-foot public health safety zone, though the requirement would only apply to new stations, not existing. Therefore, the health protection setback will not preclude new gas stations in Sumner. Instead, new stations would be guided to sites where we can gain the benefits without jeopardizing the health of our neighbors.