Residents in the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque are surrounded by multiple industrial operations including a rail yard with an intermodal facility, a tank farm storing oil and other chemicals, a scrap metal recycler and a chlorine storage facility.
Community members in the San Jose neighborhood have documented acute health effects, like headache, nausea and respiratory problems, associated with heavy chemical odors such as diesel, gear oil and spray paint. The San Jose Bucket Brigade has collected three samples containing four different chemicals and one tentatively identified compound.
Toluene: is a clear, colorless liquid with a distinctive smell. Toluene occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree. It is also produced in the process of making gasoline and other fuels from crude oil and making coke from coal.
Toluene may affect the nervous system. Low to moderate levels can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, loss of appetite, and hearing and color vision loss. These symptoms usually disappear when exposure is stopped. Inhaling high levels of toluene in a short time can make you feel light-headed, dizzy, or sleepy. It can also cause unconsciousness, and even death. High levels of toluene may affect your kidneys.
Chlorobenzene: is used as a solvent for some pesticide formulations, as a degreaser, and to make other chemicals. High levels of chlorobenzene can damage the liver and kidneys and affect the brain. Animal studies indicate that the liver, kidney, and central nervous system are affected by exposure to chlorobenzene. Effects on the central nervous system from breathing chlorobenzene include unconsciousness, tremors, restlessness, and death. Longer exposure has caused liver and kidney damage.
The data collected by the San Jose community bucket brigade was analyzed by Mark Chernaik, Ph.D. of Science for Citizens. We’ll let Dr. Chernaik provide a little more insight into the air samples that have been analyzed so far:
Attached is a new spreadsheet with the OC [Organic Carbon], EC [Elemental Carbon] and TC [Total Carbon] levels in an air sample collected on January 26th at 2600 Williams Street in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which are in the [second image] (VOC levels in air samples collected in the vicinity of this sample during September, October and December are in the [first image]).
When EC levels are above 1 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m3), then one can conclude that this location is an area impacted by diesel engine emissions.
When 24-hour EC levels at a location are above 1.36 µg/m3, then they are high enough to be associated with an excess risk of cardiovascular mortality two and three-days post exposure.
When 24-hour EC levels at a location are above 0.838 µg/m3, then they are high enough to be associated with an excess risk of cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure.
The EC level in this sample – 2.4 ug/m3 – is one of the highest EC levels I’ve seen, exceeding all of the EC levels collected by TriCountyWatchdogs at the Fort Tejon site in close proximity to I-5 in Lebec, California. The EC level in this sample would be associated with an excess risk of cardiovascular mortality two and three-days post exposure and an excess risk of cardiovascular and respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure.
The field notes indicate that wind speed was 0 mph at the beginning of the 24-hour sample collection period. Stagnant air diminishes air pollutant plume dispersal, and may be one explanation for why the EC level in this sample was so high. On the other hand, the field notes also indicate “heavy rain during day,” which would have washed out and lowered particulate matter, including EC levels. EC levels could have been even higher in the absence of “heavy rain during day” that occurred during the sampling.
UPDATE — February 21, 2013
We are posting results from a sample collected on February 5th and analyzed on February 6th that includes the continued identification of ethanol, toluene and chlorobenzene. (Image edited to focus on pertinent data.)
UPDATE — March 4, 2014
We are posting the final results covering all samples collected up to September 4th, 2013. We are also including the analysis of Dr. Mark Chernaik on the heightened levels of chlorobenzene.
Air samples collected from in southwest Albuquerque were remarkable in that each sample contained detectable and significantly elevated levels of chlorobenzene. The average concentration found in all seven samples is 23.6 µg/m3, ranging from a low of 8.5 µg/m3 to a high of 50 µg/m3.
These levels are roughly 10 time higher than concentrations of chlorobenzene commonly found in urban ambient air. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:
“Air samples at 56 localities in the United States in 1982 had mean chlorobenzene concentrations of about [3.0 µg/m3] the highest concentrations in urban and suburban areas, at much lower levels at the sites of production, but was not detectable in rural and remote areas (Brodzinsky and Singh 1983). This suggests a substantial contribution to urban air levels by small industry and consumer products but also a short residence time in the air. A study of New Jersey waste sites found similar air levels of chlorobenzene [2.5 µg/m3] (Harkov et al. 1985).”
These consistently elevated levels of chlorobenzene in southwest Albuquerque may also be of significance to public health in that levels are averaging higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) provisional Reference Concentration (RfC) for chlorobenzene. According to the U.S. EPA:
“EPA has calculated a provisional Reference Concentration (RfC) of 0.02 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) [equivalent to 20 µg/m3]for chlorobenzene based on kidney and liver effects in rats. The RfC is an estimate (with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude) of a continuous inhalation exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups), that is likely to be without appreciable risk of deleterious noncancer effects during a lifetime. It is not a direct esimator of risk but rather a reference point to gauge the potential effects. At exposures increasingly greater than the RfC, the potential for adverse health effects increases. Lifetime exposure above the RfC does not imply that an adverse health effect would necessarily occur. The provisional RfC is a value that has had some form of Agency review, but it does not appear on IRIS. (6)”
What is the source of chlorobenzene in southwest Albuquerque is, therefore, an important question, but for which there is not yet a clear answer, only reasonable possibilities. All of the samples were collected near a railway corridor, and several of the samples were collected in close proximity to an asphalt storage terminal operated by Western Refining facility on 2040 2nd Street. Rail car service facilities commonly use chlorobenzene as degreasing solvent. Chlorobenzene is used as a solvent in the production of bitumen and asphalt coatings and, according the U.S. EPA, asphalt paving mixtures and blocks are potential sources of chlorobenzene.
 See, for example: GE Railcar (Elkton, Maryland). http://www.epa.gov/reg3wcmd/ca/md/webpages/mdd078288354.html
 U.S. EPA (1993) “Locating And Estimating Air Emissions From Sources Of Chlorobenzenes.”