KUNM

Health Concerns Overshadow Albuquerque Trash Proposal

May 4, 2015

Credit Mark Bray via Flickr / Creative Commons License

The sound of city garbage trucks cruising the streets is familiar to most of us. But it’s a sound many people in Albuquerque’s North Valley are worried they’ll be hearing too much of, if the city’s proposal to build a trash center here goes through. Neighbors like Peggy Norton say the plan is a threat to the surrounding area.

North Valley resident Peggy Norton standing at the site of the proposed waste transfer station in Albuquerque's North Valley.
Credit Ed Williams-KUNM

  “The increased health concerns, the increased accident incidents, having large trucks idling in the middle of the road trying to take left hand turns,” Norton said, are all sources of concern for neighbors.

Norton is one of about 30 people from the neighborhood who are working on a health impact assessment of the proposal with the help of public health consultants. It's a busy intersection where the city hopes to build the station, on a 20-acre lot in an industrial area bordering a little league field and a residential neighborhood.

The city owns the lot where the transfer station would be built, and all of Albuquerque’s garbage trucks already park here overnight before leaving for their morning routes. But there’s no trash stored on-site now. Norton and her research group say bringing all of the city’s waste here would be a big problem for the area.

For one thing, there’s an irrigation canal that passes along the edge of the would-be garbage station. Norton says there’s a risk that things like Drano, old batteries or other hazardous household waste could leak from the trash into the water. And then there’s the increased traffic.

“The trucks would go out to their route, come back, go out to their route, come back” throughout the day, she said, and cyclists and pedestrians would have to negotiate around all these garbage trucks.

But the biggest concern is the impact diesel fumes would have on air quality in the area as they drive in and out of the site throughout the day. And that could be especially problematic, because La Luz Elementary School is just a few blocks away.

Kristine Suozzi worked as a public health director for the state and Bernalillo County. She’s now investigating health impacts of the transfer station proposal as an independent consultant.

“There’s a safety issue. There’s an air quality issue, and especially for little ones because they’re closer to the ground,” Suozzi said. “They respire at a faster rate, and diesel fumes are toxic. It’s also loud, so the noise factor from the diesel trucks will impact the children going to school.”

One of four designs city planners are considering for the transfer station.
Credit City of Albuquerque

City planners say this is an ideal location for a trash transfer station because it’s centrally located in an industrial area near the highway. They’re asking for public input on the design, and they say they’ll be able to minimize traffic impacts by controlling when trucks drive into the facility and what roads they take to get there.

“The intent of the City of Albuquerque is to build this. It makes too much sense for us as a region, as a community, as a city, to have one of these,” said Mike Riordon, Chief Operations Officer for the City of Albuquerque.

Planners are taking the community’s concerns seriously, Riordan said. All garbage would be stored inside an enclosed building to prevent odors and noise, a stormwater drainage system would keep runoff from getting into irrigation channels, and landscaping would keep most of the operations out of sight. And Riordan said traffic wouldn’t increase enough to cause problems with air pollution.

“All the vehicles that will come in and out of the site under the proposed transfer facility come in and out of the site now,” he said. “There will be more trips, so we are going to increase traffic by three percent. That is not a significant amount.”

But the health impact group says three percent is a lowball estimate, and points out that exhaust from garbage trucks and eighteen wheelers are more harmful to health than fumes from normal traffic.

At this point the proposal to build the waste transfer station is still just that—a proposal. The city still has to hold several more public meetings and go through a permitting process with the state Environment Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.