Santa Rosa Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance
Getting the Benefits of New Gas Stations Without Sacrificing the Public Health & Safety of Santa Rosa County Residents
Santa Rosa County law requires a 500-foot safety zone between homes and new gas stations. This safety zone protects the public from gas station fire and explosion danger as well as reducing the adverse health effects of the chemicals released from fuel storage tanks and at the pump.
The Santa Rosa County Commissioners are considering a request to waive this requirement for a gas station proposed for Navarre. Setting this precedent for one gas station could result in the exposure of many other Santa Rosa County homes to the threats posed by new gas stations. Please join with us by signing our online petition urging the County Commissioners to enforce the vitally important 500-foot public health, fire and explosion safety zone law.
What is the Santa Rosa Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance?
The Alliance was formed by Navarre residents who were alarmed by a proposal to build a new gas station on the site pictured in the following aerial photo.
Since the site is only 250-feet wide, the gas station would be within a few hundred feet of their homes. This proposal violated the Santa Rosa County law requiring a minimum 500-foot safety zone between new gas stations and homes. The Navarre gas station applicant requested a variance to the safety zone law which was denied. However, the applicant has appealed this decision to the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners. The Commissioners are scheduled to hear the appeal on December 12th.
Alarmed by the prospect that the Commissioners might reverse the denial, the Navarre residents formed the Santa Rosa Healthy Neighborhoods Alliance. The Alliance was formed by reaching out to others living near potential gas stations sites throughout the County. The message was:
“If the County Commissioners allow a new gas station within 500-feet of the Navarre homes, one could be allowed near any Santa Rosa home.”
For further information about the Alliance contact Debra Rasmussen at (850) 939-4756 or Kenneth DeVries at (850) 240-4357.
Santa Rosa County 500-Foot Safety Zone Law
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.
Residential zones can be viewed with the Zoning Information Map – Santa Rosa County, Florida.
The Santa Rosa County LDC allows new gas stations in the Highway Commercial Development District (HCD), the Restricted Industrial District (M-1), and the General Industrial District (M-2). To see if your home is near HCD, M-1 or M-2 zoned property visit the Zoning Information Map – Santa Rosa County, Florida.
Gas Station Potential Impacts
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.
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. It is this public safety hazard which no doubt prompted Santa Rosa County to adopt the prohibition against siting new gas station storage tanks within 500 feet of residentially zoned properties. Further detail on the FHA mortgage policy is provided in the next section of this webpage.
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.
Good & Bad Gas Station Locations
Given the impacts and corrective measures described above, an optimum gas station location would have the following characteristics:
- To preserve public health gas statiuons should not be closer than 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools,
- Gas stations sites should contain sufficient room to accommodate the vegetation and other buffering needed so the buildings, lights, pumps, etc. cannot be seen or heard from the nearest home,
- The convenience stores associated with most gas stations should be located at least a 10-minute walk (0.5 miles) from schools, and
- New gas stations should be restricted to areas where the market can accommodate a new establishment without putting existing gas stations out of business.