ROCKLAND – Lab results from testing conducted in August by a residents’ group indicate that formaldehyde levels are elevated in the neighborhood around the local train station.
Exposure to formaldehyde, a byproduct of locomotive diesel emissions, is believed to cause cancer of the lungs, sinuses and nose in humans. Formaldehyde is regulated as a carcinogen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the results received from an independent laboratory in California, the neighborhood’s formaldehyde exposure measured 5.42 parts per billion, which is 43 times greater than the EPA’s Region 6 screening level of 0.125 ppb, said Sandra Schramm, spokesman for the residents’ group Clean Air for Rockland, which ordered the tests.
Columbia Analytical Services of California conducted the tests during a 72-hour period Aug. 22-25, Schramm said. A badge used to collect the presence of formaldehyde in the air was positioned at locomotive stack height just outside windows of some of the homes along the train route near the station.
Clean Air for Rockland has voiced concern for two years about the diesel fumes released by locomotives idling at the downtown railroad station. The railroad seasonally runs daily excursion trains between Rockland and Brunswick and keeps its locomotives at idle while boarding passengers.
Residents have said that Maine Eastern Railroad is creating a public health problem. They have called on Rockland city officials, the Maine Department of Transportation and Gov. John Baldacci to take corrective action. The neighbors have pressed the railroad relocate its passenger services to its Park Street rail yard, a half-mile away. The railroad has refused that request.
“This is the first time the existence of formaldehyde has been raised as an issue,” Gordon Page of Maine Eastern Railroad said Tuesday of the test results.
Page said the railroad has volunteered answers to help solve the emissions problem by setting up shore power, similar to power used by ships in the harbor, cutting idling time, reducing the glare from the lights at the station, and reducing the noise from generators.
The railroad on Oct. 1 switched to the new ultralow-sulfur diesel, purported to burn more cleanly and reduce air pollution, Page said.
Denny Larson of the Global Community Monitor, a California-based activist group involved in the testing, said Tuesday the health risks from many of the toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde, will not be reduced by the new fuel, only the sulfur emissions. In addition, small particles emitted by burning diesel fuel are a major health risk, he said.
“These first results from community toxics testing demonstrate the validity of the long-standing concerns of the Rockland train neighbors,” said Larson.
The tests were analyzed by Columbia Analytical Services from a formaldehyde test badge provided by Columbia through Toxics Action of Maine. The tests were analyzed for formaldehyde according to EPA Method TO-11A, using high performance liquid chromatography, a process of analyzing molecules.
Columbia Analytical Services Inc. is certified by the departments of health services in California, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Oregon, the American Hygiene Association Laboratory and the U.S. Navy.
According to the California Department of Health, repeated exposure to formaldehyde can cause allergic asthma. Symptoms of asthma include chest tightness, shortness of breathe, wheezing and coughing. Formaldehyde exposure also triggers eye, nose and throat irritations at vapor levels as low as about 0.3 parts per million.
The exposure can cause red, teary, burning eyes, sneezing, coughing and sore throat, Larson said. Some people have irritant symptoms at these low-level exposures, while others can tolerate levels as high as a few parts per million with little or no reaction, he added.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection in August tested emissions from one locomotive for plume opacity. Two inspectors on Aug. 20 and 22 tested one locomotive for one hour each day and determined that no visible emissions were coming from the stack of the locomotive belonging to Maine Eastern Railroad.
Plume opacity is measured in percentages; the greater the opacity, the more the background behind the plume is obscured and the less light can come through, according to the DEP.
Meanwhile, the Rockland City Council has tabled until Oct. 22 a health ordinance proposed by City Councilor Carol Maines that would establish local pollution control regulations based on stronger EPA emission standards currently under consideration.